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updated 1/14/2006 11:45:31 PM ET 2006-01-15T04:45:31

Only half of those who cast ballots for embattled U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay in 2004 are inclined to do so again, according to a recent poll of voters in DeLay's home district.

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A criminal indictment and continuing ethics investigations of DeLay have severely eroded support for the former House majority leader, most notably among Republicans who voted for him before, according to the Houston Chronicle, which conducted its poll last week.

A quarter of the 2004 DeLay voters surveyed remain undecided about who they will support this year, but 20 percent have defected to other candidates, the poll of 560 registered voters in Texas' 22nd Congressional District found.

DeLay spokeswoman Shannon Flaherty told the Chronicle that its poll results were "contrary to the strong support we're seeing for Congressman DeLay throughout the district."

Facing an uphill battle
DeLay, who last week gave up his House leadership post because of his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his indictment on criminal charges in Texas, will square off against three Republican challengers in a March 7 primary.

Among those vying for DeLay's seat is a Sugar Land lawyer who holds an impressive Republican resume.

Tom Campbell, 50, 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.

“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.”

DeLay, who is accused of violating campaign finance laws and money laundering in Texas, won 80 percent of the vote in the 2002 Republican primary, according to the Chronicle.

But according to the new poll, 38 percent of those surveyed have changed their opinion of DeLay over the past year. Of those, 91 percent view him less favorably, according to the paper.

Long a favorite son
DeLay has long been popular in his 22nd Congressional District, which covers the southwest suburbs of Houston. But his recent legal troubles have eroded support gained over 20 years in Congress. A recent CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll showed 53 percent of registered voters in teh district want someone other than DeLay to represent them.

Despite DeLay's problems, his district remains firmly in Republican hands. Forty-two percent of those surveyed identified themselves as Republicans, 27 percent as Democrats and 23 percent as independents, according to the Chronicle. President Bush garnered a 55 percent approval rating in the district.

More than a quarter of those surveyed by the Chronicle said "partisan politics by the Democrats" was behind the investigations and indictment of DeLay, according to the paper. Among those who still support DeLay, that percentage soared to 78 percent.

About a third of those polled blame DeLay's troubles on his own behavior and a quarter blame "a culture of corruption in Washington."

DeLay may yet weather the storm. Despite their reservations about DeLay, few likely voters are committing to one of his opponents. DeLay's challengers together polled under 10 percent, with the rest undecided, according to the Chronicle.

DeLay still enjoys broad 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.

In addition to Campbell, DeLay is being challenged by Republican lawyer Mike Fjetland and retired teacher Pat Baig. Neither is considered a serious threat to unseat DeLay.

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. DeLay also may be challenged by former Republican Rep. Steve Stockman, who has filed as an independent. Stockman would need to petition for a place on the ballot.

Information from The Houston Chronicle and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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