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Gauging Effect of DeLay's Resignation on Elections

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Tom DeLay's announcement is sure to have implications far beyond his Texas district. For more on what DeLay's exit could mean politically, we called on Stuart Rothenberg. He's the editor of The Rothenberg Political Report here in Washington, and he says that at this point in an election year, it's unlikely DeLay's resignation will change the political dynamic.

STUART ROTHENBERG: I think for the most part the die is cast. The war in Iraq, issues about the president's performance, issues about ethics and corruption, management of the U.S. ports, these issues have been dominating the news for many, many months, and I think people have an opinion about who the Republicans are, and the Democrats have just defined themselves as a vehicles for change.

BLOCK: Do you think with Tom DeLay not in Congress, though, does it become harder for the Democrats to make that charge of a culture of corruption stick?

ROTHENBERG: Now, if there are indictments of Democrats and if the Abramoff scandal starts to look like some sort of bipartisan scandal, sure, that could change things. But I think we're going to hear DeLay's name often, along with Congressman Bob Ney and along with names of other staffers. And I don't think that's going to eliminate the cultural or ethics issues.

BLOCK: One of the things Tom DeLay was instrumental in doing when he was in Congress was putting in place the K Street Project. In other words, sort of packing lobbying firms with Republicans and establishing a pay-for-play system where if you want to get access, you've got to give us something. Does that change, or is that so entrenched now that Tom DeLay's not being there wouldn't make a difference?

ROTHENBERG: The guys who are in figure that the moneyed interests, the lobbyists, should cater to them. And whether it's the Democrats in or the Republicans in, I don't think that's really going to change. I don't think this is a new development. I think this has been going on for many years.

BLOCK: Do you think the Republicans have been better at it, maybe, then the Democrats were?

ROTHENBERG: They've been better at it, yeah. Yeah. Oh, absolutely. They've been more adept. They've been better at it. And so the Democrats are bitter, and if the Democrats take over, they'll try to get better at it, because they understand that money is important. It's a way to keep getting your guys reelected. And so that's part of the system.

BLOCK: One of the ways that Tom DeLay was effective was in raising money for other candidates' races. What happens with that now? Is there somebody that can easily replace him in that area?

ROTHENBERG: The president continues to be a terrific fundraiser, but I think even his ability is somewhat limited by his poll numbers, and I don't see anybody who automatically replaces Tom DeLay, certainly not in the House.

BLOCK: And what impact might that have on races that are coming up this fall?

ROTHENBERG: The republicans have to figure out a way to continue to raise money. It's an important asset they have and its something that they can hopefully use from their point of view to try to localize races. If they don't localize races, if the midterms are about George W. Bush and the war on Iraq, and ethics, and Katrina, the Democrats have a terrific chance of taking over the House.

BLOCK: Terrific chance?

ROTHENBERG: Quite a good chance, yes. Terrific, quite a good, wonderful, pick the word you like. I think the glide path of the midterm elections has been established. If nothing changes, then the midterms are likely to be a referendum on the president, and the question is whether the voters want the status quo or change. And I think right now it looks like they want change.

BLOCK: Stuart Rothenberg, thanks very much.

ROTHENBERG: Sure.

BLOCK: Stuart Rothenberg edits The Rothenberg Political Report, and he's a columnist for Roll Call.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And our coverage of Tom DeLay's resignation continues online at NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.