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REPUBLICANS FACING CATCH-22 WITH DELAY

The Republicans and their corporate backers had Osama bin Laden in the last two congressional elections. Now, the Democrats and their progressive allies have Tom DeLay for next year's House and Senate campaigns.

DeLay is the hard-nosed House Republican Majority Leader from Sugar Land, Texas. He's in trouble here because he's pushed the ethics envelope to its limits, linked himself to a very seamy lobbyist and rammed through a lot of bills favored by wealthy supporters.

DeLay has always been detested by progressives. However, the murmurings of Republicans -- who worry he could cost them their majorities next year -- have put him on Humpty Dumpty's ledge. Even so, DeLay has blamed all his troubles on distortions of Democrats and their allies in the "liberal" media.

Almost forgotten is that seven years ago it was DeLay himself who helped take out his own Republican House leader, Speaker Newt Gingrich. Gingrich's tactics, ideas and determination ushered in the first House GOP majority in four decades.

There were no complaints from DeLay then about Democratic distortions and biased reporters. The upending of Gingrich by his own GOP cohorts was overshadowed by the turmoil of the Clinton-Lewinsky impeachment disgrace.

A key ally in this fratricide was then Congressman Bill Paxon, R-Amherst, according to the authors of a book called "The Hammer: Tom DeLay, God, Money and the Rise of the Republican Congress."

Gingrich was in ethics trouble because of charges of irregularities in fund-raising by an "educational" fund and his political action committee. The Federal Election Commission fined Gingrich's PAC $300,000.

Paxon had won clout as chairman of the Republican congressional committee that elected the historic majority.

When Gingrich was most vulnerable, "Paxon and DeLay began a series of meetings over the course of two weeks in July of 1997, egging on House (Republican) malcontents and fanning the flames of insurrection," authors Lou Dubose and Jan Reid write.

DeLay "was running the show" to get rid of Gingrich, they write. "DeLay's friend Paxon was clearly the more adept plotter and had the inside track" to succeed Gingrich.

In a statement issued through his spokesman, Anthony Foti, Paxon said, "Having for the first time seen this book, much of it is pure fantasy and I wouldn't dignify it with further commentary other than to say that I thoroughly enjoyed representing my hometown in the Congress for 10 years."

DeLay and Gingrich declined to comment. The authors say they had multiple sources.

DeLay never positioned himself, as Paxon had, fatally, to replace Gingrich. After the revolt in which DeLay became the unchallenged boss of the House majority, Paxon left Congress for reasons that are unclear.

DeLay tried and failed to get Paxon a big industry representation job. Still, using the DeLay friendship and influence, Paxon has become the Republican rainmaker and savior for Akin Gump, a once-Democratic lobbying firm.

The Republicans now have a Catch-22 problem in DeLay. His grip on the majority is firmer than was Gingrich's. But DeLay's emergence as the Democrats' ethics poster boy could cost the GOP a lot of seats next year, even in the Senate. The speculation about his connections with Indian gaming interests and a looming campaign finance scandal in Texas probably have thwarted his dream of ever becoming speaker.

As he ponders his options, DeLay knows from experience that in big-stakes fights it is not your enemies who ultimately do you in, but your "friends."

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com