HOUSTON – Republicans hoping to fill the seat of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay stepped forward Tuesday as the 11-term lawmaker said he would resign, leaving the Texas district whose boundaries he drew.
Within hours of DeLay's announcement, several Republicans contacted party officials about getting on the Nov. 7 ballot. Among the potential candidates: Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, who worked with Houston's mayor to help the city absorb Hurricane Katrina refugees, and the county's tax collector-assessor, Paul Bettencourt.
A committee of select precinct chairmen from the four counties that comprise DeLay's 22nd Congressional District will select a nominee to replace him.
The Democratic candidate is former Rep. Nick Lampson, who lost his seat when DeLay redesigned the districts in 2004.
Lampson, who overnight went from facing a well-funded if controversial opponent to a quick race against a latecomer, said he would continue his campaign as planned.
"I've gotten a lot of name identification by being associated with this race while Tom DeLay has been in it," Lampson said. "I have the distinction of having served a portion of this district and I know I have a lot of support in the eastern portion of this district that I represented."
The issue of who will represent the Republican-leaning district between DeLay's departure and the election is unclear.
"I will make that resignation effective sometime before mid-June, but largely dependent on the congressional calendar," DeLay said. He also said he would make his northern Virginia condominium his primary residence, which would make him ineligible to run or vote in Texas.
If DeLay had resigned effective this week, Gov. Rick Perry could have called a special election for the next uniform election date, May 13. The next uniform election date is Nov. 7, though Perry could call an emergency special election before then.
The Republicans' new nominee would have to be selected well before the November election to have time to raise money and campaign. Lampson had $1.4 million cash on hand as of Feb. 15. DeLay had nearly $1.3 million, which he can transfer to his legal defense fund for his upcoming money-laundering trial.
Eric Thode, the outgoing GOP chairman of Fort Bend County, the largest area of DeLay's district, said a special election would be open to candidates of any party, but the district still favors a Republican.
"My Republican dog would win that election," Thode said, calling a special election "an innocuous and extremely expensive waste of time."
In addition to Eckels and Bettencourt, other possible GOP candidates are attorney Tom Campbell, who won about a quarter of the GOP primary vote against DeLay last month; Republican state Reps. Robert Talton and Charlie Howard; Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace; Houston City Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs and former state District Judge John Devine.
Campbell, who already had a campaign up and running, called DeLay's resignation "a great day for America."
Republican Party insiders will choose the nominee, and Campbell's challenge to DeLay was considered unseemly, undercutting his chances of getting the nod.
In the meantime, DeLay is fighting an indictment in Texas as part of an investigation into the allegedly illegal use of funds for state legislative races. Travis County District Attorney Ronald Earle said Tuesday that DeLay's plan to resign has no effect on the case.