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Judge says DeLay must stay in race


HOUSTON -- Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader, has to stay on the Texas ballot in November, despite his efforts to move out of state so Republicans can pick a stronger candidate, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

The decision, by Judge Sam Sparks of U.S. District Court in Austin, threw the race in the staunchly Republican 22nd Congressional District into new turmoil and gave a victory to Democrats fighting to keep one of their most reviled foes in the running.

DeLay, who resigned from Congress June 9, is under indictment on charges of money laundering. To keep his name off the ballot and allow another Republican to run, he moved to Virginia and said he was no longer a candidate from the district.

Sparks said, however, that the move to Virginia did not automatically remove DeLay's name from the ballot, because he had been chosen in the Republican primary. The ruling prohibits the Texas Republican chairwoman, Tina J. Benkiser, from picking a new candidate from a crowded field.

A lawyer for the Texas Republican Party, James Bopp Jr., said an appeal would be quickly filed with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

A statement issued for DeLay called the decision "ill-advised" and seemed again to rule out a race for a 12th term from his longtime home in Sugar Land, outside Houston.

"As a resident of Virginia, he cannot lawfully be on the ballot in November," the statement said. "It is unfortunate that the voters of the 22nd district of Texas are the ones who bear the brunt of Judge Sparks' ill-advised decision, but it is highly likely that it will be overturned, and the voters will have a Texas Republican on the ballot who will defeat Nick Lampson."

In Washington, the ruling had party strategists contemplating a scenario in which DeLay could be the Republican candidate in a district where he says he does not live.

It also ratcheted up the turbulent political season here. It features an unruly five-way race for governor that includes two independent candidates.

Democrats, who want to keep DeLay's indictment at center stage, celebrated the ruling and its prospects for aiding the all-but-unopposed challenger, former Rep. Nick Lampson.

"Try as they might and as much as they would like to, unfortunately Texas voters just can't seem to get rid of Tom DeLay," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "But no matter what happens on the ballot, come November, Texas voters will choose Nick Lampson, because he will fight for the new direction that Texas voters deserve."

State Republican officials have been meeting to select a replacement since DeLay's surprise announcement in April, after decisively winning a four-way primary, that he was withdrawing "to pursue new opportunities."

DeLay and his wife have been traveling back and forth between Virginia and Texas, leading Democrats to call his reported move a subterfuge to allow the party to select a candidate unburdened with ethical questions.

DeLay is under state indictment on charges of campaign financing violations in connection with the 2003 redistricting that the U.S. Supreme Court approved last week. He is also a focus of federal investigations into lobbying irregularities involving Jack Abramoff in Washington.

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