HOUSTON – Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, facing trial on charges of money laundering in a campaign finance scheme, officially filed Tuesday to run for a 12th term in his suburban Houston district.
The filing was not unexpected.
Republican DeLay, who has denied any wrongdoing and has accused Democrat Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle of conducting a political witch hunt, already has been campaigning against his likely general election opponent, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson. He still must deal with at least two GOP challengers in the March primary.
DeLay filed by petition with the Republican Party of Texas, delivering almost 1,000 signatures collected by volunteers. Filing by petition, instead of paying a filing fee, requires 500 signatures from registered voters in his district.
When DeLay disclosed his plans Tuesday at an appearance before a business group in the Johnson Space Center area of his district, he received a standing ovation from the overflow crowd of some 150 people.
Asked about Lampson's challenge, he replied: "It's not a challenge."
In his address DeLay touted the accomplishments of the most recent congressional session. He didn't mention his legal difficulties until a question-and-answer session afterward, in which he said there was a Democratic strategy to take him down.
"The record of this year is pretty amazing and we've been able to do it despite getting down into the gutter the Democrats have chosen to get into," DeLay said. "They have no agenda. All they have is the politics of personal destruction, and we understand what it is. We stay focused on our job to represent the views and values of our constituents and doing good things for the nation."
Lawyer Michael Fjetland, defeated three times by DeLay, filed last week to enter the GOP primary. Pat Baig, a former teacher and political rookie, has said she'll join them and already has been campaigning.
DeLay, the former House Majority leader who was indicted earlier this year, usually campaigns quietly without much concern for his re-election in a solidly Republican district.
But with his legal troubles prominent, and with national Democrats backing Lampson, DeLay's ordinarily routine re-election has taken on a much higher profile, even drawing Vice President Dick Cheney to headline a recent fund-raiser in Houston.
DeLay's announcement Tuesday came after State District Judge Pat Priest last weekend said he couldn't set additional hearings in the criminal case until after an appeals court ruling, dampening DeLay's hopes of regaining his House leadership post.
DeLay, who has denied wrongdoing, wants to separate a remaining charge and proceed to trial on one count while others are being appealed so he can regain his majority leader job before his GOP colleagues call for new leadership elections.
DeLay was forced to step aside as majority leader in September after he was indicted on state charges of conspiracy to violate Texas election laws. A second grand jury indicted him on charges of conspiracy to launder money and money laundering charges.
Earle alleges DeLay and two co-conspirators funneled $190,000 in corporate contributions through the Texas political committee and an arm of the National Republican Committee to seven GOP state legislative candidates.
Earle contends DeLay and his two associates tried to circumvent Texas' law barring spending corporate money on campaigns except for administrative expenses.
Besides the criminal charges, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a week ago to review the Texas congressional redistricting plan DeLay engineered.