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With New Group, DeLay Stays Busy

Not content to sit on the sidelines and give advice as a political consultant, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has launched a national grass-roots organization to once again try to influence public policy.

In discussing his new venture with Roll Call last week, DeLay showed he remains just as fiery and engaged in politics as he was during his nearly 22-year Congressional career. DeLay opined on several topics and said his latest project — the Coalition for a Conservative Majority — is intended to fill a strategic void that has allowed the Democratic Party to outflank the GOP politically.

DeLay, in a 45-minute interview conducted jointly with CCM Chairman and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (R), described the Republican base as generally demoralized and incohesive; pointedly criticized the Democrats’ management of the House; lamented the demise of the K Street Project; and contended that the paradigm for winning campaigns and advancing public policy has shifted.

“For so long we were so arrogant to think — and I was a part of this, too — to think that if you just raise enough money, you can do enough television and you’re going to be OK,” DeLay said while seated in the Capitol Hill office of his consulting firm, First Principles LLC. “Those days are over, and the left has proven that.”

DeLay resigned his suburban Houston 22nd district House seat in June 2006, some months after being indicted for allegedly breaking Texas election law. Some portions of the indictment were subsequently thrown out by the courts, and DeLay is now waiting on a decision by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals about whether the case, brought by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle (D), will proceed to trial.

DeLay expects to ultimately be exonerated, but said the legal proceedings could drag on for 18 months, as he expects Earle to appeal any favorable decision he gets from the appellate court.

Meanwhile, DeLay appears to remain firmly abreast of politics, both on Capitol Hill, nationally and in his old Congressional district, where he predicted the Republicans would oust Rep. Nick Lampson (D) in 2008. DeLay based his prediction on the “high” quality of the crowded GOP primary field, the Republican nature of the district and his belief that Lampson is no “Chet Edwards” — although he tries to be.

Rep. Chet Edwards (D) serves in Texas’ solidly Republican 17th district, which is President Bush’s home district. DeLay declined to reveal whom he believes would be the best Republican candidate to face Lampson, and he also demurred when asked who would be the most formidable GOP presidential nominee.

DeLay acknowledged that Republicans were not in as good a shape nationally as they are in Texas’ 22nd district. In traveling the country, DeLay has come to learn that grass-roots Republicans are demoralized and unsure of where they would like the party to go after losing control of Congress last year — although he said GOP activists have grown more optimistic about the party’s 2008 prospects over the past few weeks.

He said this attitude has affected fundraising at the National Republican Congressional Committee and other GOP campaign committees. But DeLay said the NRCC is suffering equally because his K Street Project to raise money from lobbyists for Republican incumbents and GOP challengers is now defunct.

“The K Street Project is now dead, and has been resurrected 10 times more by the Dingells of the world,” DeLay said, referring to Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.

Despite the condition of the party nationally, DeLay has been heartened by the performance of the House Republican Conference. The Texas Republican lauded the conference for using the few parliamentary tools at its disposal to at times give House Democrats fits, and on occasion, win some key votes to advance GOP policies.

DeLay charged that Democrats have “made several dumb mistakes” in their management of the House “that have had lasting implications,” in particular their decision to institute a five-day workweek. DeLay said all that accomplished was to anger Democratic Members and make it harder for them to balance family, constituent and Capitol Hill responsibilities, while achieving little, if anything.

Additionally, DeLay believes that both Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) have erred by not relying more on the institutional knowledge of the many longtime Democratic incumbents to help run things.

“I don’t think that was a very wise move,” DeLay said. “John Dingell had 50 years of experience, many of those years as chairman of a committee. Why wouldn’t you rely on his understanding of how you, just physically, run the House?”

CCM, set up as a 501(c)(4), began operating last week with eight chapters across the country: in Denver, Colorado Springs, Colo., Houston, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Scranton, Pa., Phoenix and West Palm Beach, Fla.

But DeLay’s future blueprint for CCM includes unleashing an army of conservative grass-roots activists in the major media markets of all 50 states, supported by an annual operating budget of around $20 million, that would pressure state and federal officials on a wide variety of issues. Specifically, CCM was designed to identify, recruit and train activists in order to advance conservative public policy, whether on social, fiscal or national security issues.

Blackwell is leading the group and operating as its front man; DeLay is very active behind the scenes, and in particular is functioning as CCM’s chief fundraiser. Blackwell is being paid an undisclosed salary for his work; DeLay’s consulting firm is being paid to advise the group and provide organizational infrastructure, at least until enough money is raised for CCM to stand on its own.

DeLay said he sees CCM as a combination of the left-of-center groups America Votes — a 527 group run by his old nemesis, former Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas) — the now-defunct 527 America Coming Together and Media Matters — which calls attention to media reports and commentators that it believes are biased toward Republicans.

The coalition is designed to allow for bottom-up leadership and minimal guidance from the organization’s Washington, D.C., staff. In this way, each chapter can chart its own course and attempt to exert its influence on various local, state and national issues, while creating a mechanism to unite each chapter behind a specific issue or set of issues at the request of CCM’s national leadership, which includes DeLay and Blackwell.

“This obviously will have a part to play in the elections, even though CCM is a (c)(4),” DeLay said. “The fact that you have people in media markets that can influence the debates … There is a presence, and a conservative voice on the ground.”