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FEATURE DeLay, Incorporated BY ROBERT DREYFUSS More than half of the American public has never heard of Tom DeLay, the conservative Republican who’s represented Texas’ 22nd district, including Brazoria, Fort Bend, and Harris counties, in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1984. And, according to a poll taken late last year, among those few who do manage to recall who he is, DeLay is a blank slate, with nearly half unable to scrounge up any opinion about him one way or the other. But according to both friends and foes on the Hill, DeLay is the single most powerful member of Congress. “He has moved more aggressively than anyone I have ever seen to accumulate leverage and power,” says Norm Ornstein, veteran political analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Yet unlike former Speaker Newt Gingrich who, until his spectacular fall from grace in 1998, was a ubiquitous and controversial symbol of Republican power in the House, and who often excelled as a blue-sky theoretician and strategist DeLay is nearly faceless, rarely making headlines. DeLay’s style is almost the polar opposite of Newt’s. He operates largely behind the scenes, pulling strings and making the wheels turn in Congress, and wielding enormous power over the GOP rank and file through a top-down command structure of lieutenants. Though fiercely partisan and ideologically bonded to the right wing of the Republican party, DeLay has made himself indispensable by amassing an unparalleled political machine. “He is the implementer,” says Robert Rusbuldt, a senior lob :7 byist for the Independent Insurance Agents of America and a key member of DeLay’s kitchen cabinet. “Some think that he is the enforcer.” Nicknamed “The Hammer” for his often heavy-handed use of brute political power, DeLay himself prefers a different and more modest metaphor. Acknowledging that among recent GOP congressional leaders Speaker Gingrich was the “visionary” and House Majority Leader and Dallas Republican Dick Armey was the “policy wonk,” DeLay said, “I’m the ditch digger who makes it all happen.” For DeLay, making it happen starts and ends with money, in the form of cold, hard campaign cash. “Money,” DeLay says, “is not the root of all evil in politics. In fact, money is the lifeblood of politics.” Perhaps the staunchest opponent of campaign finance reform in the House, DeLay currently serves as the party’s chief liaison to Washington’s business lobbyists, money men, and corporate political action committee directors. Using his organizational muscle as majority whip in the House, a key leadership position, and his uncanny ability to raise and distribute millions of dollars in political money, DeLay is an indefatigable driving force behind the Republican agenda in Congress. But DeLay’s money machine faces a critical performance test in 2000. With polls showing that Democrats look increasingly likely to regain control of the House next year, DeLay is scrambling to assemble an unprecedented campaign war chest to be deployed this fall. In so doing, he has stretched Federal Election Commission breaking point, putting together a network of funds and PACs nicknamed “DeLay Inc.” The Hammer on the air File photo And DeLay faces another test as well. For the next nine months, DeLay has to juggle the demands of an often rambunctious Republican House caucus while trying to maintain a partnership with the presidential juggernaut of George W. Bush. Bush’s campaign style “compassionate conservative” rhetoric and a nonconfrontational approach to voters not normally part of the GOP constituency base clashes with DeLay’s rawer, more partisan demeanor. And, though DeLay is a master at collecting campaign money, he now finds himself dependent, perhaps uncomfortably so, on Bush’s far greater access to political money to help finance Republican candidates for the House in 2000. Not only that, but Bush, whose campaign will of necessity stress the need for change FEBRUARY 4, 2000 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER