Democrats hope for traction against Republicans

Democrats in Congress, who have steadily lost ground against governing Republicans in recent voting, are hoping that mounting ethics scandals will prompt voters to defect from George W. Bush’s Republican party, with the 2006 election looming.

Democrats hoping to capitalise on the corruption allegations have their biggest target in their nemesis, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who on Wednesday was forced to step aside temporarily after being indicted on a campaign finance charge in Texas.

The scandal, heaped on top of recent allegations against the Senate’s Republican leader, gives opposition Democrats a chance to profile themselves to voters as the party of higher ethical standards.

Nancy Pelosi, the top House Democrat, pushed the case that DeLay’s alleged ethical lapses point to decrepitude within the governing party.

“The Republicans are crumbling,” Pelosi said at a press conference in Washington Thursday.

“They are corrupt. They act in a corrupt way.
They have a culture of corruption here. It is about cronyism. It is about favoritism to their friends in contracting, cronyism in hiring, it is about incompetence.

“And that,” she said, “is from here to the White House.”

Democrats said the scandal that upended DeLay’s political career is compounded by ethics allegations facing the top Senate Republican Bill Frist, accused in an insider trading scandal of selling stock shortly before its price plummeted.

Within hours of DeLay’s indictment on Wednesday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee—the group in charge of strategy and fundraising for the party’s candidates—trumpeted the scandals on its website.

“Tom DeLay and Bill Frist are not alone in their shady style of governing—it is a systemic problem in the Republican Party that goes far beyond these two men,” the website read.

“The Republican Party has betrayed the trust of the American people, and it is time that they are thrown out.”

Such heated rhetoric was not unexpected from DeLay’s political enemies. For opposition Democrats “it’s a great time to crow” said Stephen Hess, a political analyst at the Brookings Institution.

Hess however said that the biggest immediate gain for Democrats will be likely greater success blocking the Republican agenda.

With the majority leader safely out of the way, “all sort of good things will happen to the Democrats. It becomes far more difficult for the president to get his agenda through Congress with ‘The Hammer’ no longer there,” Hess said, using the colourful nickname given to DeLay, a feared enforcer of Republican party discipline.

Democrats hope the scandal creates enough public outrage to draw a sizeable number of voters to their side when legislation elections are held next year, but Hess was doubtful.

“It’s pretty hard to win elections just on the basis of an assortment of ethical charges. You can make something of the corruption, but you have to have something to wrap around it.

“Ultimately,” Hess said, “you have to stand for something”.

Political pundit Larry Sabato said the scandal provides Democrats a plum opportunity to energise its base and increase its fundraising—just in time for the 2006 elections.

A scandal like the one affecting DeLay “excites the base” Sabato said, predicting “a lot of money will be raised in fundraising appeals” thanks to the conservative lawmaker’s legal woes.

Already, left-leaning interest and lobby groups made DeLay’s legal woes the centerpiece of their latest fundraising efforts. One organisation, the American Progress Action Fund, urged supporters to “Drop the Hammer” on DeLay—in donations of between $25 and $1000.

For his part, DeLay on Thursday renewed his charge that the indictment was prompted by a political vendetta, with Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle and Washington Democrats collaborating.

Earle “did it in conjunction and working with the Democrat leadership here in Washington, DC,” DeLay told CNN television.

“I’m sure they worked closely with Ronnie Earle on this strategy. It is quite obvious, because the Democrats announced this strategy. And we all know how this place works.

DeLay continued: “They don’t have any evidence. All they wanted to do is indict me so that I would have to step aside as majority leader temporarily. That’s the only reason I got indicted,” he told CNN.

The Republican lawmaker said he has proof of collusion between Washington Democrats and the Texas prosecutor, which he will produce in due time.

“That evidence is coming,” DeLay said, promising to reveal more details “when it’s timely”. - AFP