Image: Thomas Campbell
Donna Carson  /  AP file
Thomas Campbell, who holds an extensive Republican resume, is one of three challengers to run against Rep. Tom DeLay in the Texas primary in March.
updated 1/13/2006 9:59:27 PM ET 2006-01-14T02:59:27

U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, who lost his leadership post because of his ties to a disgraced lobbyist and faces felony charges in his home state, now has another worry: an unprecedented four-way primary for the seat he’s held comfortably for 22 years.

While two of DeLay’s challengers in the March 7 primary aren’t considered to have much credibility — one is making his fourth attempt to unseat DeLay and the other has lived overseas much of her adult life — lawyer Tom Campbell of Sugar Land holds an impressive Republican resume.

Campbell worked on the presidential campaigns of Bob Dole and the elder George Bush, whose administration appointed him general counsel to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A former Harris County Republican Party official runs Campbell’s campaign.

“I don’t believe in the any-means-necessary brand of politics,” Campbell said Wednesday at a reception held for him at a Houston law firm. “That leads to cutting corners to win, which leads to ethical lapses.”

Cooperating with investigators
DeLay, who along with a multi-candidate primary faces a credible Democratic opponent for the first time in his congressional career, said Saturday he would not seek re-election to his House leadership post amid House Republicans’ concern about a corruption scandal tied to lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The lobbyist pleaded guilty last week to felony charges and is cooperating with investigators in a bribery probe focusing on several members of Congress and their aides.

In Texas, DeLay is charged with money laundering in connection with the transfer of $190,000 in corporate contributions through a Texas political action committee founded by DeLay to an arm of the National Republican Committee, which then contributed the similar amounts to GOP legislative candidates in Texas.

Republicans took control of the Texas Legislature after the 2002 elections, and pushed through a congressional redistricting plan favorable to the GOP that DeLay engineered.

DeLay was popular in his 22nd Congressional District, which covers the southwest suburbs of Houston, until his latest legal troubles. A recent CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll showed 53 percent of registered voters want someone other than DeLay to represent them.

Nevertheless, DeLay still enjoys institutional support in Fort Bend County, the Houston suburb that holds most of his district and includes his hometown of Sugar Land. The county Republican Party has adopted a resolution supporting DeLay and the chairman is in DeLay’s camp.

“Tom Campbell at least has Republican credentials,” Fort Bend County GOP chairman Eric Thode said. “Having said that, it doesn’t translate into one iota of support or money. He is 100 percent absolutely unknown in this county.”

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Campbell’s stump remarks gloss over specific issues, focusing instead on his promise to bring “honesty, civility and decency” back to Congress.

Opponent has never held political office
Campbell, 50, said after “having a hard time voting for Tom DeLay” in the 2004 election, he looked for someone to challenge DeLay in 2006, but found no GOP career politician willing to take him on. So Campbell, who’s never held a political office, decided to run himself, figuring it was an act of Republican loyalty to challenge the party’s troubled standard-bearer.

“If we don’t clean house in March, we’ll lose the House in November,” Campbell said. “Sugar Land, Texas, is the epicenter of the national debate on how we conduct politics.”

Campbell, a 12-year Sugar Land resident who has put his own money into the race, has less than $100,000 so far after announcing his candidacy in December, said campaign manager Mike Stanley, former general counsel to the Harris County GOP. DeLay had raised more than $1 million by the last reporting deadline in September.

DeLay also faces lawyer Mike Fjetland and retired teacher Pat Baig. The primary winner will face former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, a Beaumont Democrat who represented a district next to DeLay’s for eight years until DeLay’s redistricting plan put him in a new, less Democratic district. Lampson lost in 2004 to longtime Houston judge Ted Poe, a Republican.

While DeLay’s campaign spokeswoman, Shannon Flaherty, has dismissed Fjetland and Baig with disparaging quips, she said DeLay welcomes Campbell to the race and to hearing his ideas.

“But he’s going to have a tough time with local GOP support,” Flaherty said. “He’s got more than 30 years of catching up to do.”

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