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Lampson to Challenge DeLay

Former Texas Rep. Nick Lampson (D) has decided to challenge embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R), filing papers Monday with the Federal Election Commission.

In addition, 2004 Democratic nominee Richard Morrison removed himself from the race Monday, citing family considerations in an e-mail to past supporters.

“My wife is expecting our 5th child in August and I feel that I must devote my time to getting my financial house in order,” Morrison wrote. He added that his stepmother has recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

The dual decisions come just days after Lampson, Morrison and Houston City Councilman Gordon Quan (D) met to discuss the contest.

“I have the greatest respect for both of those guys,” Lampson said. “We left the meeting without a decision on who would be the best person to take on this effort.”

Lampson is clearly viewed as a strong contender by national Democrats. Sarah Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, called him a “fantastic candidate who is hitting the ground running.”

Lampson will hold his first fundraiser on Thursday evening in Washington, D.C. A copy of the invite urges donors to “welcome Nick Lampson into the race against Tom DeLay in TX-22!”

For his part, Morrison, who did not mention his intentions in an interview Monday several hours before he e-mailed supporters, said he did little to try to strong-arm Lampson out of the race at last week’s meeting.

“We came to the conclusion that we are all going to run, but if a clear frontrunner emerges we are all going to step aside for him,” Morrison said.

Quan is expected to form an exploratory committee for the race shortly.

The heightened activity on the Democratic side in the 22nd district comes amid further revelations concerning DeLay’s foreign travel.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that the credit cards of lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Ed Buckham were used to pay for portions of a trip that DeLay, his wife and top staffers made to Scotland and England in 2000. Under House ethics laws, lobbyists cannot pay for Members’ travel. DeLay has repeatedly insisted that to his knowledge any and all of his trips were legally funded.

This is the second time in as many cycles that Lampson, who held the 9th district from 1996 until 2004, has considered a run in the 22nd district.

After a 2003 re-redistricting effort led by DeLay allies in the Texas state Legislature, Lampson was forced to decide between running in the east Texas 2nd district or challenging DeLay.

Lampson explained that he chose the former seat for the 2004 election because “you’ve got to dance to those that brung you to the dance”; his political base of Beaumont in Jefferson County was preserved in the 2nd district.

Despite raising and spending $2.4 million on that race, Lampson lost convincingly to now-Rep. Ted Poe (R) 56 percent to 43 percent.

Carl Forti, communications director at the National Republican Congressional Committee, referenced the 2004 contest when asked about Lampson’s strength against DeLay.

“Lampson couldn’t win his own district,” Forti said. “How does he expect to beat Tom DeLay?”

Lampson dismissed the idea that his last race was an indicator of his chances against DeLay, pointing out that between 25 percent and 30 percent of the 22nd district was part of his old 9th district and that his work on space issues would pay dividends since the Johnson Space Center is in the district.

“I desperately wanted to hold on to the involvement I had with space and science,” Lampson said.

In addition to the geographic and policy appeal of the 22nd district, Lampson acknowledged that there are “some additional opportunities because of an incumbent that is having some challenges of his own.”

The only polling publicly released this year in the district was sponsored by the Houston Chronicle and showed that 45 percent of those tested would vote for someone other than DeLay compared to 38 percent who would support the Congressman and 17 percent who were undecided.

DeLay allies argue that the survey’s results should be taken with a grain of salt, however, because it was conducted by John Zogby who served as the pollster to DeLay’s 2002 Democratic challenger.

By the numbers, the seat remains a Republican stronghold. President Bush won 64 percent in the 22nd in 2004 even as DeLay defeated Morrison 55 percent to 41 percent.

The majority of the vote is split between DeLay’s longtime political base in Fort Bend County and the fast-growing Houston suburbs of Harris County. Each county accounts for roughly 30 percent of the general election vote. Galveston and Brazoria counties each compose roughly 15 percent.

In addition to having the district’s demographics on his side, DeLay is gearing up financially for what will be the toughest re-election race of his 21-year Congressional career. DeLay brought in $458,000 in the first three months of the year, a total that includes a $100,000 personal loan. Roughly half of DeLay’s fundraising — $221,000 — came from political action committees.

Lampson said the biggest hurdle for him to overcome when deciding on the race was the financial firepower — and likely accompanying nastiness — that a race against DeLay ensures.

“I will be able to raise a significant amount of money,” Lampson predicted. But, he conceded, “I probably can’t compare with the Hammer.”

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