We would say that today is judgment day for Tom Delay if he didn't have so many more ahead of him. The former House majority leader faces a Republican primary challenge in Texas today, and the results -- even if, as expected, he wins -- will say a lot about how damaged he is politically.
Today's primary is the first competitive one DeLay has faced in two decades. His strongest challenger, lawyer Tom Campbell, has a hard time identifying any points of policy on which he disagrees with DeLay, saying rather that DeLay has done the right things the wrong way. "I believe that Mr. DeLay has practiced a brand of win-at-any-cost, partisan slash-and-burn politics that has caused him to pursue short-term victories," Campbell tells Congressional Quarterly. "And when hes been in pursuit of those short- term victories, hes cut corners. And when you cut corners, you commit ethical violations. And when you commit ethical violations, you begin to lose the confidence of the American people. That brand of politics is, No. 1, wrong, and No. 2, ineffective."
We'll see. While the presence of four challengers in today's primary will likely dilute the anti-DeLay vote and leave him in the lead, DeLay needs a majority in order to avoid a runoff election that would be held April 11 -- just two weeks after Jack Abramoff is to be sentenced in the Florida fraud case pending against him. Abramoff's lawyers warn that their client will be "naming names" and "providing evidence" in the course of his sentencing. In the meantime, the Texas Third Court of Appeals will hear prosecutor Ronnie Earle's appeal of a lower court decision in the money-laundering case against DeLay on March 22. It would be fair to say that these aren't exactly momentum-building developments in the run-up to a runoff.
So Team DeLay sure would like a win today, but that's only half of the Sugar Land pie. The general election is in November, and Campbell says DeLay can't win then. A poll taken by the Houston Chronicle in January seems to support that view: More than half of the voters who backed DeLay two years ago say they can no longer stomach the idea of voting for him again.
As for DeLay? He seems to be taking it all in stride. After campaigning intensely back home in Texas, DeLay has returned to Washington, where he'll spend primary night at a fundraiser hosted by two lobbyists.