WASHINGTON – A former Democratic congressman on Tuesday launched a national fund-raiser aimed at unseating Rep. Tom DeLay next year as the former House majority leader battles an indictment and ethics charges.
Nick Lampson lost his congressional seat last November after Texas Republicans targeted him and other Democratic House incumbents in a DeLay-backed plan to redraw the state's district lines. Those targeted in the Lone Star State became known as the "Texas Five." The incumbents at risk were: Reps. Martin Frost, Charles Stenholm, Max Sandlin and Lampson. Rep. Chet Edwards was the only Democrat out of the five to keep his seat.
Lampson now hopes to defeat the long-time lawmaker DeLay, R-Texas, in the newly redrawn congressional District 22, which includes portions of Sugar Land, Galveston and Houston.
DeLay was required to resign as House majority leader after a grand jury indicted him on a conspiracy charge Sept. 28, and later on a money laundering charge Oct. 3 in a state campaign finance investigation led by Travis County prosecutor Ronnie Earle. DeLay, who is from Sugar Land, Texas, has denied any wrongdoing.
DeLay is expected to be booked in a Texas county jail this week despite attempts by his attorneys to stop the man known on Capitol Hill as "The Hammer" from being fingerprinted and photographed for mug shots.
While DeLay handles legal issues in Texas, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other Democratic leaders are headlining a national fundraising event with Lampson, described in a press release as "a candidate for change who is going to rock the political establishment by beating Tom DeLay next November."
In addition to Washington, fund-raisers will also be held in Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The events will be sponsored by a joint committee formed by Lampson for Congress 2006 and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Meanwhile, DeLay has his own fund-raising efforts under way.
DeLay raked in a record $1.2 million for his 2006 campaign, raising about $920,000 in three months from July 1 to Sept. 30. He raised $800,000 during the previous three months
Like DeLay, Lampson has a growing campaign war chest, although not as large, with about $800,000 raised since May 5, said Mike Malaise, Lampson's campaign manager.
After DeLay's indictments, Malaise said there was an increase in online donations.
"There are a lot of people who are energized by this race now, some who have had longstanding opinions about Tom DeLay," Malaise told FOXNews.com.
Malaise said DeLay's charges brought national attention to the race and will continue to do so.
"I think the indictments put this on the national news," Malaise said. "But in terms of what the effect is on the race, I think sometimes that gets blown out of proportion. Ethics was already a question in this race."
Lampson poses more of a challenge to DeLay than past opponents. DeLay beat a relatively unknown Democrat Richard Morrison in the 2004 general election for District 22.
But DeLay's support has been slipping; he won 55 percent of the vote in 2004, compared to 63 percent in 2002.
DeLay spokeswoman Shannon Flaherty said the incumbent's campaign has received hundreds of calls and letters, many from first-time contributors, giving money to help fight the indictments and Democrat attacks.
“People who supported Lampson in his back-benching congressional days are realizing how ineffective he really was and are coming over to support Congressman DeLay,” Flaherty said.
The recent contributions also show supporters' concern that the DeLay re-election bid will likely be the No. 1 race in the country, Flaherty said.
Political experts say DeLay’s indictment and conclusion of those events could impact the race and give Lampson an edge.
Gary Keith, a government lecturer at the University of Texas, said the election will capture national attention because Democrats are familiar with Lampson, since he has been in Congress and was a target in the DeLay-backed redistricting plan.
“If Lampson is able to beat DeLay, then that means other Republicans will be in trouble,” Keith said.
Keith said DeLay is working to get his legal troubles taken care of as soon as possible to minimize their impact on the election.
“If there’s no conclusion before the race ends, it remains a very live issue. That is why he [DeLay] has got to try every trick in the book to get it done soon,” Keith said. “If it does come to an end, and the end helps him, I don’t know that he is off the hook, but it certainly helps him.”
Richard Murray, director of the University of Houston Center for Public Policy, agreed that the indictment and visibility of DeLay could work to Lampson's advantage as far as fundraising.
Until DeLay's legal troubles are solved, and with so much time until the election, something else could come up that may either hurt or help DeLay before voters head to the polls and he needs to be prepared, Murray added.
"He's rallied the conservative base behind him, but he’s at risk," Murray said. "The district is a little less friendly. This time around he’ll have a much better opponent than in 2004."