Campaign volunteers for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search) were set to begin training Thursday night to gather enough signatures to put DeLay on the March primary ballot.

While some critics called the start — seven months before the deadline — a sign of vunerability, supporters say it makes sense.

"Tom DeLay is in trouble. His support at home is at a historic low," said Bill Burton, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "He's in for the toughest fight of his congressional career."

However, DeLay spokeswoman Shannon Flaherty said the decision to collect signatures long before the Jan. 2 deadline was the result of energized supporters offering their help.

The Republican from Sugar Land rallied his supporters Tuesday in Clear Lake, located at the other end of his congressional district.

DeLay won 55 percent of the vote in November, his closest race in 11 victories. That election came after he received three admonishments from the House ethics committee (search) in October.

DeLay now faces fresh ethics charges (search), but supporters said getting campaign volunteers in order shouldn't be misinterpreted.

"Look, whenever the campaign wanted to go out and collect signatures they could do it," said Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "I don't see how it can be considered a sign of weakness at all."

DeLay must collect 500 valid voter signatures to be included on the March 7 primary ballot.