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Pondering the Ultimate Crusade

Three Democrats, Including Lampson, Consider Challenging DeLay Next Year

Seeking to bolster his chances of ousting embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) next year, 2004 nominee Richard Morrison is seeking to quickly unify Democrats behind his candidacy.

Morrison said Monday that he speaks almost daily with two other potential Democratic candidates — Houston City Councilman Gordon Quan and former Rep. Nick Lampson — and that the three are likely to sit down this week to further discuss the race.

“There’s not going to be a primary with known Democrats,” predicted Morrison, who has pledged to remain in the race no matter what others in the party do. “It’s not going to be Morrison versus Lampson or Morrison versus Quan.”

Lampson, however, said he is “giving consideration” to the contest and like Quan, counseled caution in selecting a nominee.

“It would be great if there were a good, clear direction right now,” Lampson said. “But sometimes it takes time to understand what the dynamics are.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has met with all three candidates in recent days — Morrison traveled to Washington, D.C., late last week — in an attempt to divine who would have the best chance of knocking off DeLay.

“DeLay is incredibly vulnerable and one of our top targets,” said DCCC spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg. She added the committee “always prefers not to have a primary” but said it is still early in the election cycle.

Regardless of who the eventual Democratic nominee is, defeating DeLay remains a difficult proposition due to the underlying demographics of his Houston-area 22nd district.

“Right now there are two losers trying to run,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Communications Director Carl Forti, referring to Morrison and Lampson. “Realistically Democrats have no chance of picking up this district.”

The seat, which along with the state’s other 32 Congressional districts was redrawn by DeLay and his allies in the state Legislature in 2003, gave President Bush 64 percent last November.

DeLay, even then buffeted by allegations of campaign fundraising irregularities, underperformed Bush by 9 percent but still won a 14-point victory over Morrison.

“You can get to 46 [percent] somewhat easily,” said a Democratic consultant with knowledge of the seat. “In a district like that getting to 51 will be very difficult unless you have DeLay as the candidate.”

The district does have some Democratic base voters — largely a concentration of blacks in the Galveston area. It also has a considerable Asian-American population, another potential foothold for Democrats.

But roughly one-third of the vote is in the GOP-friendly Harris County suburbs of Houston; nearly seven in 10 workers in the district are white collar.

To win a seat with such a decided Republican slant, Democrats acknowledge that their only chance is for a damaged DeLay to seek re-election in a race framed as a referendum on his representation.

The race “has little to do with the personal qualities of the Democratic candidate,” said one party strategist familiar with the state’s politics. “The ideal candidate might be a blank slate whose biggest virtue is not being Tom DeLay.”

Of the three Democrats mentioned, Morrison clearly fits that profile best. An unknown political commodity in 2004, Morrison — an attorney by profession — was the beneficiary of significant out-of-state fundraising by liberal interest groups seeking to send a message to the Republican leader.

Democracy For America, one of the leading progressive fundraising entities, helped Morrison raise $60,000 to $70,000 by his own estimate; Daily Kos, a liberal Web log, accounted for a similar amount.

All told, Morrison spent $684,000 to DeLay’s $3 million.

DeLay continued to flex his fundraising muscle in the first three months of 2005, bringing in $458,000, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission on Friday. That total included a $100,000 personal loan.

Morrison had a much less-impressive quarter, raising just $11,000; he had a cash balance of negative $40,000 at the end of March.

“What makes me the strongest candidate is I have started a lot earlier fundraising,” Morrison maintained Monday, adding that he is currently calling through a list of 7,000 people that supported his last campaign. He believes he is on pace to raise $2 million for the contest.

Some Democrats remain unconvinced that Morrison is their best candidate, however, due in large part to his connection to the liberal interest groups that helped fund his race in 2004.

Lampson is seen by that faction as the best bet since he won election four times in a district that tilted toward Republicans.

The former 9th district Congressman considered a run against DeLay in 2004 when his seat was divvied up between the 22nd district and the 2nd district.

Ultimately, Lampson chose to run in the 2nd district in which there was no incumbent of either party and where much of his Jefferson County base was preserved.

Lampson lost that race to now-Rep. Ted Poe (R) 56 percent to 43 percent.

Despite passing on a challenge to DeLay last cycle, Lampson clearly has given considerable thought to a 2006 race.

He estimated that 30 percent of his old 9th district was preserved in the new 22nd and said that his parents grew up and were married in a town in Fort Bend County, one of the population hubs of the seat.

“They can’t hang around me a carpetbagger label,” Lampson said.

Though Lampson insists he is a “tireless worker,” there are some political observers who question whether he possesses the grit and commitment necessary to run what would assuredly be an expensive and negative contest.

Quan, too, is traveling the district to assess his chances; he met with the Fort Bend County Democrats last week to discuss a bid.

Elected three times as an at-large city councilman, Quan is also well-known in the Asian political community.

He urged both state and national Democrats to take their time in choosing a nominee.

“I would like to see there be an in-depth study to see who has the best opportunity to beat Mr. DeLay,” Quan said. “We need data from people within the district.”

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