Following the announcement that former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay would not be seeking reelection this year and that further he would be resigning from Congress before election day, a number of the top non-partisan political analysts downgraded their assessment of Democratic chances in DeLay's district, Texas-22, which encompasses parts of Houston and outlying areas. For example, the Cook Political Report, which in late March (.pdf) ranked the campaign a "toss-up,"now (.pdf) sees the race to replace DeLay as "likely Republican." Similarly, The Hotline downgraded the race from the 7th most competitive to the 21st most competitive, and Greg Giroux of CQPolitics.com writes, "A strong Republican nominee who lacks DeLay's political baggage would almost certainly gain at least a slight edge in the race, given the 22nd District's history as a Republican stronghold."
So did the politically-shrewd DeLay assure his party of holding onto his seat by opting not to run again and resigning from Congress? Is this race really "likely Republican" now?
On the surface, it would appear that the answer to these two questions is yes. After all, George W. Bush received 64 percent of the vote in the 22nd district in 2004. What's more, it increasingly appears that up-ticket races for both Governor and Senator won't provide Democrats in the district much in the way of coattails.
That all said, it's a bit hasty to start writing off the Democrats in the district. First of all, voters' sentiment across the country bodes poorly for the Republican Party as a whole, with President Bush's approval rating nearing 30 percent and Congress' approval rating in the mid to low 20s. Even in Texas, Bush's approval rating is only 45 percent, with a majority of Texans voicing disapproval.
More importantly, the Democrats have an extremely able candidate in Nick Lampson, a former Congressman who, until 2005, represented parts of Houston. Not only does Lampson have a connection with voters in the area and strong name recognition, he also has a lot of cash on hand -- more than $1.75 million in the bank, in fact, as of the March 31 filing deadline.
Were that not enough to convince you that the Democrats have a serious shot at picking this seat off from the Republicans this fall, the Associated Press reported yesterday that Steve Stockman, a former conservative Republican Congressman, has collected enough signatures to run as an independent in the general election against Lampson and the eventual GOP nominee (who, by the way, won't be selected by the voters but rather by party insiders -- not the most popular bunch among the base these days).
Given the fact that a significant portion of Texans will likely be voting independent up the ballot this fall -- two strong independent gubernatorial candidates, Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman, are polling together at over 40 percent -- it's not entirely unlikely that a fair number of GOP voters will be inclined to jump ship on the congressional race, too, and support Stockman in the general. Enough defections from the Republican base and Lampson might be home free.
At this point, I wouldn't argue that this race should be labeled as "likely Democrat" or even "leans Democrat." But given the national mood, the strength of the Democratic nominee, the taint of Tom DeLay, and the potential presence of Steve Stockman on the ballot, I am having trouble seeing how the GOP can be favored in Texas' 22nd congressional district.