Tom DeLay Faces First Big Post-Indictment Test

March 7, 2006 — -- Texans head to the polls today, and all eyes will be on Rep. Tom DeLay's vote total in his Houston-based district.

Having vastly outspent his three Republican rivals and having carefully targeted the Republican faithful, the former House majority leader is expected to win the GOP's nomination to represent the 22nd district of Texas.

But political insiders will be closely watching today's results to see whether the "Hammer" wins going away or he just squeaks by.

Non-partisan political analyst Stu Rothenberg tells ABC News that it's "not impossible" that DeLay will be forced into a run-off against Republican Tom Campbell, his strongest rival. Texas law mandates a runoff if no candidate gets 50 percent plus one. If necessary, the runoff would be held April 11.

A Primary Win Won't Be End to DeLay's Troubles

Assuming DeLay gets through the primary, Rothenberg thinks DeLay is in "huge trouble" come November. The Rothenberg Political Report rates DeLay as one of the 10 most vulnerable House incumbents in the country. The Democratic nominee will be Nick Lampson, a well-financed former member of Congress.

In 2004, the situation was quite different. DeLay sought his party's nomination unopposed. He won his November 2004 election by a 55 percent to 41 percent margin.

In addition to the Texas primary, today will also see the launch of "The Big Buy," a new documentary that chronicles Travis County prosecutor Ronnie Earle's legal pursuit of DeLay. The anti-DeLay film by Mark Birnbaum and Jim Schermbeck will also tie DeLay to disgraced ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

DeLay will be in Washington on primary day. He will spend the evening at a fundraiser hosted by husband and wife Bill Paxon and Susan Molinari, who served together in Congress before becoming lobbyists.

Lampson's campaign manager issued a statement Friday rebuking DeLay's primary night plans.

"Rather than living it up with Washington lobbyists," said Lampson campaign manager Mike Malaise, "DeLay should be here trying to explain his legacy of debt, corruption and neglect to Texans."

There is a quirk in Texas election law: Registered Democrats can vote in the Republican primary for or against DeLay. But with turnout expected to be as low as 10 percent, the DeLay camp is not overly concerned about Democratic mischief.

While Lampson's experience as a former member of Congress gives him stature, it also presents DeLay with a voting record that he can attack.

"If he was running against someone without a record he would probably be toast," said Rothenberg.

95-Year Old Mr. Smith Hopes to Go to Washington

Elsewhere in the Houston area, there is another race on Tuesday that is winning national attention.

Sid Smith, 95, is seeking the Democratic Party nomination to take on Republican incumbent Rep. Michael McCaul, a freshman lawmaker who won the 10th congressional district of Texas two years ago after the DeLay-engineered redistricting.

Smith told ABC News on Friday that he will be throwing "one hell of a party" at his house on primary night. The colorful nonagenarian, whose birthday falls on Dec. 24, recently told The Associated Press that his birthday makes him "one day older than Jesus."

Rothenberg tells ABC News that if Smith were to get his party's nod, he would stand no chance in the general election against McCaul because of the Republican character of the district. But given that top-tier congressional candidates avoid entering primaries that will prove "suicidal" in November, it's possible that Smith could win the four-way race for his party's nomination on Tuesday.

ABC News' Mike Westling contributed to this report.