Ad War Picks Up in DeLay’s Safe District
Although the re-election of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) seems assured, three national political groups are funding television ads in his Houston-area district — the latest sign of an ongoing struggle to negatively define the influential but controversial Republican.
The two Democratic-aligned groups — Democracy for America and Campaign Money Watch — launched ads in DeLay’s 22nd district that paint the Republican as a rogue lawmaker who has been repeatedly scolded by the House ethics committee.
“Republicans should stand up and demand Tom DeLay’s resignation,” says the narrator in the Campaign Money Watch ad.
Seeking to level the playing field, the D.C.-based Club for Growth is running ads in Houston that commend DeLay’s “principled conservative leadership.” DeLay is also up with several ads of his own that tout his accomplishments for the district.
Strategists on both sides of this somewhat unexpected ad war agree that DeLay appears to be in little trouble in his bid for an 11th term. His opponent, attorney Richard Morrison (D), has raised enough money to make a token television buy, but he faces an uphill climb given the strongly Republican nature of the 22nd district.
The real aim of these ads appears to be an ongoing attempt by strong partisans to either demonize or lionize DeLay.
“This is part of a concerted effort to draw horns and a tail on Tom DeLay,” said Jonathan Grella, a spokesman for the Majority Leader. “They would like to tie [DeLay’s] hands and smear his name because he is effective.”
Not so, said Laura Gross, a spokeswoman for Democracy for America. She argued that her group’s ads are an attempt to educate the people of Houston about “the kind of person that is representing them.”
That effort hit a major roadblock over the weekend, however, when the DFA ad was pulled from Houston cable television due to questions over whether DeLay had threatened the head of the ethics committee, Colorado Rep. Joel Hefley (R). The ad had suggested that Hefley had been threatened, but after the allegation was questioned by the National Republican Congressional Committee, the ad was pulled.
Democracy for America is a group formed by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) in the wake of his loss earlier this year in the presidential primaries. Since that time, the group has endorsed and funneled funds to a variety of federal and local Democrats, including Morrison. Dean has also traveled to the 22nd district to raise money for Morrison.
Dean is “sick of big money running things in Washington,” said Gross. “Tom DeLay is a perfect example of why Washington is corrupt and why it needs a change.”
That theme was picked up in the Campaign Money Watch commercial, in which a narrator says DeLay “scoffed at the law” and “abused his position.”
Campaign Money Watch, a 527 soft-money organization, is largely funded by a who’s who of big-dollar progressive donors including Linda Pritzker, who has donated $250,000 to it since Oct. 1, according to reports filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
Not to be outdone, the Club for Growth is answering with a commercial that praises DeLay for his support of lower taxes as well as a bevy of other red-meat conservative issues.
“There are many politicians in Washington but only a few leaders fight for what they believe,” says the ad’s narrator. The spot is financed by ClubForGrowth.net, an unincorporated 527 that accepts only contributions from individuals, a fact which allows it to advertise all the way through Election Day. The ad buy, which began on Oct. 19, will run through Nov. 2.
Club President David Keating said his group did not take to the airwaves out of concern for DeLay’s re-election or to staunch damage caused by the Majority Leader’s recent ethical problems.
“We made the decision based on where the issues are being argued,” said Keating. “The issues here are the issues we care about.”
Sources familiar with the club said the ad buy on DeLay’s behalf was motivated in large part by the desire of its donors to express encouragement and support for the Republican leader.
Grella, the DeLay spokesman, said that his boss has pledged to match the efforts of his detractors on the airwaves, an easy feat given DeLay’s bulging $1.2 million war chest as of Oct. 13.
Pointing out that approximately 30 percent of the 22nd is new to DeLay following a 2003 re-redistricting that he engineered, Grella called the attention on the race a “golden opportunity.”
“It is imperative that we introduce ourselves rather than be introduced by” Democrats, Grella said.