The Republicans in the house may have decided they've had enough of Tom DeLay. They are circulating a petition to force a vote to remove him permanently as Majority Leader. No, they never voted against him when he had all those annoying little reprimands from the ethics committee, or when he fixed the ethics committee by stacking it with his guys to make sure he would avoid getting any more of those, or even over the last few months of continual scandal. No, what moved them to action was a language that speaks even louder than DeLay's bullying or his big money-- polling data showing things have taken a turn to the worse for the prospects of their re-election.
A new AP-Ipsos poll out today showed that Democrats, who were ahead by 8-10% in the four generic polls out in December, have opened up a thirteen point lead in generic congressional polling. While there is a long time before the election, other polling and events this week make things more problematical for Republicans than just being behind in a generic poll (although, we are into 2006 now, and poor polling numbers become a bigger problem than they would have been last year, since fundraising dollars tend to follow the poll numbers).
Specifically, another poll out shows that 49% of Americans believe that most members of Congress are corrupt. Since it came out before the Abramoff plea deal, there was only a three point bulge (47%-44%) in the total percentage of respondents who said many or most Republicans in Congress were corrupt as opposed to Democrats (of course, Republicans were rated better on that question as recently as last year), but with the new revelations about Abramoff (in a time frame reflected in the AP-Ipsos poll but not the CNN poll) it is likely that that bulge will grow. In fact, the GOP tried to portray the scandal as a bipartisan scandal but was inadvertently tripped up by a White House action that shifted the focus in a way that hurts only Republicans. Specifically, the Bush-Cheney campaign (I guess they must still have an office somewhere) hurt the GOP's attempts to spread the blame by donating only $6,000 of the well over $100,000 they had gotten from Abramoff's fundraising machine because the $6,000 represented only the share of the money given to the Bush-Cheney campaign that was personally donated by Abramoff, his wife and a tribe which he bilked. What this did was to take the focus off of all the money he raised and focus it on the personal contributions of Abramoff, and it turns out that Jack Abramoff personally gave only to Republicans (well, other than his very first donation, which went to a candidate from the National Taxpayers Party). This hurt the Republican line that the scandal was bipartisan by 1) distracting from it just as it looked like they might get some traction (even though the huge majority of Abramoff money went to Republicans anyway), and 2) giving Democrats a very specific list they can use which contains only the names of Republicans, and it is a substantial list which includes 39 current U.S. house members and 19 current U.S. Senators (including John Sununu and Tom Coburn when they were in the house), who have over the years gotten contributions from Abramoff. The story out today that Abramoff agreed to cooperate with Federal prosecutors ahead of his plea deal will only raise the angst on Capital Hill-- especially among those who may now realize that they might have sealed their own fate when they last spoke to Abramoff.
Which brings us to the king of fundraisers, who not only had ties to Abramoff but who bent all rules and did everything he could to raise big money to elect Republicans in any way that he could, and that is of course Tom DeLay. And Republicans know that, as long as DeLay is around, this scandal will continue to be their baby. So DeLay is suddenly facing a mutiny. That could be dangerous in itself--one of his opponents once said that DeLay didn't stab people in the back-- he stabs you in the front instead and you see it coming but can't stop it. Maybe, but even a hammer gets rusty after awhile.
CORRECTION: The last sentence of paragraph three originally said that Abramoff wore a wire to help investigators. That is not true, so I edited the sentence to make it accurate. Two commenters, Tom Zuzelo and Indyvoter, pointed out that it was former Congressman Duke Cunningham, who resigned after pleading guilty to bribery, not Abramoff, who wore the wire. Abramoff agreed to cooperate with Federal prosecutors (which should still make a lot of Congressmen nervous) but never wore a wire (it wouldn't make much sense for Abramoff to wear a wire anyway since these guys have been avoiding contact with him like he was a boatload of sick chickens from Asia).
ANOTHER CORRECTION: Cold Hearted Truth points out that I was incorrect in saying that Republicans were within a point or two in previous generic polling. I thought I had read that somewhere but in four polls taken on that in December, the spread was very consistent at 8-10 points. So thirteen points is a widening of the margin, but not a large widening.