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Judge to Tom DeLay: ‘Run like a rabbit’

Is Former House Minority Leader Tom DeLay still legally the GOP congressional candidate for his district, his despite his resignation from the House.?
House Of Representatives Convenes For 109th Congress
Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) is still an issue in Texas, as the Democratic and Republican Parties fight over whether he can be replaced as a candidate on this fall's ballot.Mark Wilson / Getty Images file
/ Source: NBC News

Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, R-TX, testified at a hearing today in the federal courthouse in Austin regarding a lawsuit filed by Democrats who argue that DeLay is still legally the GOP congressional candidate for his district, despite his resignation from the House.

Delay said at the hearing, presided by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, that he has moved to Virginia and plans to vote and live there, and that he is leasing office space in Washington.

According to reporters in the courtroom, Delay said, he has obtained hunting and fishing licenses in Virginia. And that he didn't hire movers because his Virginia condo was already furnished. He said the only belonging he moved to Virginia was a car.

Under the state election code there is a crucial difference between a candidate being ruled ineligible or simply withdrawing. In the first situation, the party can replace the candidate on the ballot. In the second situation, it cannot.

State Republican Chairwoman Tina Benkiser has ruled DeLay ineligible as a candidate because of his move to Virginia, setting in motion a procedure for party officials to name a successor for the November ballot.

According to the Austin Statesman newspaper, Judge Sparks questioned both DeLay and Benkiser about letters that DeLay sent to the chairwoman about his plans. He quizzed both about why a draft of the letter was sent before a final version was delivered days later.

Neither could answer why.

DeLay takes the stand
DeLay testified that he understood before he made his decision the consequences of withdrawing from the race as opposed to being declared ineligible. DeLay resigned from Congress on June 9th.

Once DeLay finished testifying, Sparks explained he could either leave or stay for the rest of the proceedings.

"My recommendation is to run like a rabbit," Sparks quipped according to an Austin Statesman newspaper account.

Democrats respond
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie, in a statement this afternoon said, "The fact that Tom DeLay was served (a subpoena) at his home in Fort Bend County supports what the Texas Democratic Party has known all along, that Tom DeLay has been and continues to be an inhabitant of the State of Texas."

"Obviously, this makes clear that the Republican Party cannot conclusively establish from any record, either today, tomorrow, or in October, that Tom DeLay will not be an inhabitant of Texas on Election Day," Richie added.

The Texas Democratic Party argues, eligibility for Congress is established by the U. S. Constitution. Under its guidelines, a person is only required to be an inhabitant of the state on Election Day to be eligible for Congress. State residency requirements cannot be used to determine eligibility. The Democrats contend, when Tom DeLay filed for office, he swore that he would be an inhabitant of Texas on Election Day.

"Tom DeLay's actions this weekend confirm that his cut and run scheme is just a charade. If the DeLay-Republican charade is allowed to stand, DeLay could conceivably return to Texas after he is "replaced" on the ballot, re-register, and actually vote in the election he hopes to abandon," observed Richie.

"I am confident that we are right on principle and right on the law. It is time to end Tom DeLay's continuing efforts to corrupt the Texas election process," Richie concluded.

It's not clear when the judge will rule in the case.

Joel Seidman is an NBC News producer covering Washington.