updated 10/5/2006 10:18:22 AM ET 2006-10-05T14:18:22

Vice President Dick Cheney on Wednesday gave a critical financial boost to the Republican candidate running a last-minute, write-in campaign to claim former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's seat.

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Nearly 200 people paid at least $500 to dine on sandwiches and potato chips while Cheney spoke for 20 minutes at a downtown Houston hotel. His visit was one of the few signs that Shelley Sekula-Gibbs' campaign was generating any support outside Houston.

Sekula-Gibbs, a Houston city councilwoman, is fighting to increase her name recognition and her profile since August when she jumped in the race long overshadowed by DeLay's legal and political travails.

DeLay resigned from Congress in June amid a series of investigations of his fundraising activities. The courts refused to allow Republicans to replace him on the ballot, leading him to withdraw from the race and forcing Republicans to turn to Sekula-Gibbs as a write-in candidate.

Texas Republican Chairwoman Tina Benkhiser once promised as much as $3 million in donations for Sekula-Gibbs' campaign, but none of that money has materialized. She has gotten only about $100,000 from the National Congressional Campaign Committee.

Crucial for fundraising
Cheney's visit was expected to raise $150,000 to $200,000 — by far the largest amount she has been able to raise in her campaign to replace DeLay in the suburban Houston congressional district.

2006 key racesThe vice president said the White House was behind the campaign, and described Sekula-Gibbs as "a superb candidate" and "another great Texas conservative." He said the district could be key in determining whether the Republicans maintain control of the House of Representatives for the next two years.

President Bush "deserves a Congress that will work with him, not against him," Cheney said.

Former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, Sekula-Gibbs' Democratic opponent, has raised at least $2 million so far and has emerged as the front-runner, according to an analysis by Congressional Quarterly. The district, which is about 53 percent Republican, spreads across four counties south of Houston.

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