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Republican Lawmaker Tom DeLay to Leave Congress

Texas Congressman Tom DeLay, once one of the most powerful Republicans in Washington, has surprised political allies and rivals alike with his decision to give up his House seat and return to private life.

Tom DeLay has been embattled for months. He faces criminal charges for alleged campaign finance violations in his home state of Texas. In addition, two former top aides have been implicated in the widening corruption scandal involving one-time Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

DeLay has denied wrongdoing in connection with both cases and recently won a Republican Party primary to defend his congressional seat in November. But recent polls had him trailing his Democratic opponent, Nick Lampson.

Faced with the possibility that his seat would fall into Democratic hands, DeLay released a videotaped statement announcing he will resign his seat in the next few months.

"Because I care so deeply about this district and the people in it, I refuse to allow liberal Democrats an opportunity to steal this seat with a negative, personal campaign," said Mr. DeLay.

As House Republican leader, Tom DeLay was one of the most effective and most feared congressional leaders in decades and was given the nickname of "The Hammer" for his bare-knuckled political style.

DeLay made a series of phone calls to key Republicans prior to his announcement, including one to President Bush.

"I wished him all the very best, and I know he is looking forward, he is looking to the future," said Mr. Bush. "My own judgment is that our party will continue to succeed because we are the party of ideas."

Among those paying tribute was the current leader of Republicans in the House of Representatives, Congressman John Boehner of Ohio.

"When it comes to cutting taxes, getting rid of burdensome regulations, welfare reform, Tom has truly been a leader for us," said Mr. Boehner.

Opposition Democrats have long regarded DeLay as one of the most aggressively partisan and divisive Republicans in Washington.

They have been trying to exploit DeLay's political troubles for months and plan to make corruption and the Abramoff lobbying scandal major issues in congressional midterm elections in November.

This is National Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean.

"Tom DeLay's leaving of the office is a very good sign. But there are, unfortunately, many, many other corruption problems under the Republican administration in Washington," said Mr. Dean.

DeLay was forced to give up his leadership position last year and abandoned plans to try and reclaim it in January. It has been a rapid fall from power for a man first elected to Congress in 1984 and who came to national prominence as assistant majority leader after Republicans won control of the House in 1994.

Larry Sabato directs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

"Clearly, the accumulation of scandals has just proved too much for him," said Mr. Sabato.

Lawmakers from both parties and political analysts are now trying to assess how DeLay's departure from Congress will impact this year's elections.

This is independent analyst Stuart Rothenberg.

"It is abundantly clear that Americans are dissatisfied with the current leadership, the current direction of the country, and want change," said Mr. Rothenburg. "And since most elections are about status quo or change, keep the guys who are running the show in place or bring in new people, that is good news for the Democrats, who are the out party in every area."

Republicans control the White House and both houses of Congress. Congressional analyst Amy Walter says that can often mean trouble halfway through a president's second term in office.

"Midterm elections traditionally are referendum elections and it is almost a given that the party in the White House loses seats in a midterm election," said Ms. Walter.

Some analysts believe Delay's resignation will help Republicans by taking the national spotlight off of him and, to an extent, the issue of corruption.

Fred Barnes is an editor with the Weekly Standard magazine and a recent guest on VOA's Press Conference USA.

"Well, I think that 2006 does not look like a great Republican year, that is for sure," said Mr. Barnes. "I suspect that Republicans will run very strong campaign in the fall and effect will be to neutralize a bad situation for them."

Democrats need to gain 15 seats in the November elections to take control of the 435-member House and six seats to regain a majority in the 100-member Senate.