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DeLay's dilemmas

Tom DeLay is a major force on every issue in Congress— ruthless with both Republicans and Democrats who cross him.

But back home in Sugarland, Texas, any loss of power seems to be DeLay's. Last November, against a relatively unknown Democrat, he received just 55 percent of the vote. As political analyst Charlie Cook notes, "You can't carve up a state to get five new districts for your party without giving up some margins."

For DeLay, there are other issues. Last year, three Texas associates of DeLay were indicted on charges of illegal fundraising. DeLay also ran into trouble with the House ethics committee, who admonished him for inviting energy lobbyists to a fundraiser just before the energy bill was brought to the House floor.

He was also admonished for muscling a fellow Republican during a Medicare debate by promising to help the lawmaker's son.

And DeLay was admonished a third time for using the Federal Aviation Administration to help round up missing Democrats in the Texas legislature— the legislature needed a quorum so it could pass a controversial redistricting plan that helped Republicans.

"It's really unfortunate that it had to get so nasty. But after everything they threw at us, we knew we had to push back," said DeLay.

DeLay's allies pushed back late last year by trying to gut House ethics rules for any lawmaker indicted in the future. But a few key Republicans balked, forcing DeLay, the ultimate vote counter, to reverse his political course.

"Is he a hard charging true blue conservative? Yes. But Tom DeLay is a very pragmatic guy and there are limits to even what he can do," says Cook. Democrats, though, smell blood and they are raising money fast to keep ads running DeLay's home district.

DeLay, for his part, is hitting back. And not just against the Democrats. Republican Joel Hefley from Colorado, after daring to stand up to the House majority leader, was removed as chairman of the House ethics committee last February. Hefley's term was limited, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the move "a chilling message to members who value upholding the highest ethical standard over loyalty."

Tom DeLay didn't get his nickname, “The Hammer” by accident. Republicans and Democrats who stand in his way are in for a heck of a fight. Even if DeLay, for the first time in years, now seems vulnerable.