HOUSTON – In his first election since he was indicted and forced to step aside as majority leader, Rep. Tom DeLay held off three challengers to keep the Republican nomination to the U.S. House. Now he faces what many consider the real contest — a general election fight against an organized, well-funded Democrat with a score to settle.
Nick Lampson, who was unopposed in Tuesday's primary, represented a district adjacent to DeLay's for four terms until it was redrawn in a redistricting plan engineered by DeLay. Lampson lost in 2004 to Republican Ted Poe.
DeLay, 58, held on to his ballot position by avoiding public discussions of his considerable political problems — a felony money-laundering indictment, close ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the loss of his leadership position.
Instead, DeLay campaigned at carefully orchestrated events, avoided direct interviews with reporters and largely focused on his hometown of Sugar Land. It paid off with a 2-to-1 victory margin over lawyer Tom Campbell, who had ties to the first President Bush's administration, and two other candidates.
"That was an effective strategy to get through the primary," said political scientist Cal Jillson of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "But in the general election, he'll have to face Lampson and Steve Stockman, as well as the press, both local and national."
According to final but unofficial returns, DeLay scored 20,558 votes, or 62 percent, to Campbell's 9,937, or 30 percent.
Stockman, a former Republican congressman, is considering running as an independent.
"Democrat attacks and the politics of personal destruction were heavily used by my opponents in this Republican primary, and they were rejected just like they will be in November," DeLay said in a statement.
Lampson spent the primary campaign season raising money in the Houston-area district, building support in Washington and around the country from Democrats who saw the first chance in 22 years to unseat the embattled DeLay. Lampson raised $2 million, about what it cost DeLay to keep the nomination.
He told supporters that he was a man with "thick skin and hard hands" ready to take on DeLay.
"Tom DeLay gets headlines for all the wrong reasons," he said. "Well, I'm looking forward to that headline on Nov. 8 — No Further DeLay."
DeLay was indicted last year and is awaiting trial on charges that he illegally funneled corporate donations to GOP candidates for the Texas House in 2002. The Republicans won a majority in the Legislature that year, and then pushed through DeLay's congressional redistricting plan that sent more Republicans to Washington in 2004.
DeLay also has come under scrutiny over his ties to Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to fraud in January and is cooperating in an investigation of influence-peddling on Capitol Hill.
A former Democratic congressman from Houston won the right to challenge Republican Gov. Rick Perry in a state where the GOP holds every statewide office.
Chris Bell prevailed over Bob Gammage, a former Texas Supreme Court justice who jumped into the race in December after a decade out of politics. Bell got 338,116 votes, about 64 percent, to Gammage's 151,971, or 29 percent.
Perry won his primary easily, collecting 601,348 votes, or 85 percent, against three little-known opponents.
Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn and musician Kinky Friedman are each seeking about 45,000 signatures from voters who do not vote in the primary to get onto the fall ballot.
In another congressional contest, freshman Rep. Henry Cuellar took the edge in a rematch with Democrat Ciro Rodriguez, who served seven years on Capitol Hill before losing to Cuellar in 2004.
With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Cuellar had 53 percent of the ballots tallied. Rodriguez, who narrowly lost to Cuellar in the 2004 primary in the South Texas district, had 41 percent. Victor Morales had 2,534 votes, or 6 percent. Thousands of votes had yet to be counted in his home county.
Texas law mandates a runoff if no candidate gets 50 percent plus one. If necessary, the runoff would be held April 11.
Houston lawyer Barbara Radnofsky, a political newcomer, headed to a runoff against a perennial Democratic candidate Gene Kelly in a bid to challenge popular Republican U.S. Senate Kay Bailey Hutchison.
At least two veterans of the Iraq war are running for Congress from Texas. David T. Harris, a Democrat, is expected to take on Rep. Joe Barton in November, and Van Taylor, a Republican, won the nomination to go up against Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards in the Crawford-area district that includes President Bush's ranch.