The decision appears to end the Washington career of the hard-charging congressman whose tough tactics earned him the nickname “The Hammer”.
DeLay, who survived a primary challenge last month, told Fox News Tuesday that he believed he could have been reelected by the voters in his suburb Houston district.
“I think I could have won the seat but it would have been nasty and cost a fortune to do it,” he said.
DeLay blamed “liberal Democrats” for making his reelection campaign a mud-slinging affair.
“The voters of the 22nd district of Texas deserve a campaign about the vital national issues that they care most about and that affect their lives every day and not a campaign focused solely as a referendum on me,” he said.
News of DeLay’s decision first came to light last night, when he released a videotaped statement and gave an interview to Time Magazine.
“This had become a referendum on me,” DeLay told the magazine. “So it’s better for me to step aside and let it be a referendum on ideas, Republican values and what’s important for this district.”
Delay gave up his post as majority leader last fall after he was indicted in Texas as part of an investigation into the allegedly illegal use of funds for state legislative races. This January he decided not to try and regain his leadership role as investigations into his connections with a DC lobbyist continued.
In Washington, the man who replaced him as majority leader hailed his predecessor as “one of the most effective and gifted leaders the Republican Party has ever known.”
“He has served our nation with integrity and honor, and I’m honored to call him my colleague and friend,” U.S. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, said.
Democrats were quick to seize on the 11-term Congressman’s decision as proof of the ethical lapses stemming from 12 years of Republican control of the House of Representatives.
“Tom DeLay’s announcement is just the beginning of the reckoning of the Republican culture of corruption that has gripped Washington for too long,” Democratic Party spokeswoman Karen Finney said.
Two of DeLay’s former aides have pleaded guilty in an ongoing investigation into whether former lobbyist Jack Abramoff unduly influenced members of Congress. Tony Rudy pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with a federal investigation into possible lobbying fraud.
DeLay’s attorney was quick to say the congressman’s decision was not tied to the corruption probe.
“The decision had absolutely nothing to do with the investigation,” Mr. Cullen said. “It was a very personal decision and a political one.”
But DeLay indicated he would continue to work to strengthen the GOP even after leaving Congress.
“I can do more on the outside of the House than I can on the inside right now. I want to continue to fight for the conservative cause. I want to continue to work for a Republican majority,” DeLay told Time, in an article posted on the magazine’s Web site.
It is not clear whether Texas Gov. Rick Perry will call a special election to complete the unexpired portion of DeLay’s term, or whether the seat would remain vacant until it is filled in November.