Well, maybe you can mess with Texas. Scandal-plagued former House Minority Leader Tom DeLay, whose career in Congress imploded after he was indicted for scheming to warp homestate political maps and campaigns, won a clear victory in his Republican primary Tuesday night.
DeLay took 62 percent of the vote to 30 percent for his most credible challenger, Tom Campbell, a lawyer who served as general counsel for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration during the George H.W. Bush administration. Lawyer Mike Fjetland, a frequent candidate, took 5 percent, while Pat Baig, a retired credit manager, got 3 percent.
Those numbers look good on paper for DeLay. But, on the ground in Texas, the refrain is: "Tom’s in trouble."
What’s wrong with 62 percent? That’s the smallest share of the Republican primary vote DeLay has secured in any of his re-election campaigns.
GOP strategists know that, when a still-powerful player in the majority party in the House, who has 100 percent name recognition, a huge campaign bankroll and across-the-board support from party leaders can’t even get two-thirds of the vote in a Republican primary, he’s standing on shaky ground.
And this particular incumbent was already looking vulnerable going into the fall contest.
In November, 2004, before he was indicted and before the name of his friend Jack Abramoff became the new shorthand for corruption in the Capitol, DeLay was reelection against a weak Democratic challenger with a mere 55 percent of the vote.
That was far short of the 64 percent of the vote given by DeLay’s 22nd District to President Bush in 2004.
In this November’s contests against an aggressive and reasonably well-funded Democrat, former U.S. Representative Nick Lampson, DeLay cannot afford to lose 38 percent of Republicans, as he did in Tuesday’s primary.
Indeed, any significant slippage from his Republican base will spell big trouble for the incumbent.
So, while DeLay cleared the Republican primary hurdle, Texas might still mess him in November.