WASHINGTON – Dogged by scandal, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay intends to withdraw as a candidate for Congress, a Republican strategist said Tuesday, a step that would allow the party to field a write-in candidate in hopes of holding his seat.
The development came one day after Texas Republicans lost a court battle in their bid to name a replacement candidate for DeLay on the November ballot.
The strategist described DeLay's intentions on condition of anonymity, saying the former majority leader intended to make his own announcement.
DeLay resigned his Houston-area seat in June and said he was switching his legal residence to Virginia. He had already won a primary in Texas, and Republican officials there moved to name a replacement candidate.
Democrats went to court to block the switch, and prevailed.
The maneuvering underscored the intensity of the battle between the two national parties as they vie for control of Congress in the midterm elections.
DeLay had held the House seat for more than two decades, but yielded his power — first surrendering his post as majority leader, then resigning his seat — at the urging of party leaders who said he risked defeat this fall and that his presence on the ballot could hamper other incumbents.
He is awaiting trial in Texas state court on money laundering charges alleging that illegal corporate cash helped pay for legislative campaigns in 2002. DeLay also had close ties to Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist at the center of a congressional corruption investigation.
DeLay has not been charged in that investigation, although two former aides who later developed ties to Abramoff have entered into plea bargains.
Former Rep. Nick Lampson is the Democratic candidate in the race, and had amassed more than $2 million in his campaign treasury as of June 30 in preparation for a race against DeLay.
Texas Republicans on Monday abandoned their court fight to replace DeLay on the November ballot, conceding defeat after Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia ruled against them.
"I think all our legal avenues are exhausted in terms of affecting the ruling prior to the election," said Jim Bopp Jr., the attorney who argued the Republican Party's case to allow party officials to substitute another candidate for DeLay.
In a statement late Monday, Bopp warned Democrats, "Be careful what you ask for."
The lawyer said Democrats "insisted he run for Congress, now it's up to voters to decide if Democrats are going to be happy" on Election Day.
Democrats were undaunted by the prospect of facing DeLay in November and claimed victory.
"Given the choice between facing the voters and facing the courts, DeLay chose the courts and lost handily," said Bill Burton, spokesman for the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.