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INSIDE POLITICS

Tom DeLay rose to power the old-fashioned way

And no one takes odds against him

By Candy Crowley
CNN Political Unit

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- He is a bug exterminator driven to politics by his fury over environmental rules (he once called the EPA the Gestapo of government).

After the president, he may be the most powerful man in Washington.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, left his leadership position Wednesday after he was indicted in a campaign finance probe. DeLay came to power the old fashion way: under his own steam, building a base of loyalty, collecting chits.

"He has worked for each member to get elected, to be re-elected, and that is something members don't forget -- or forget at their own peril," former Rep. Bob Barr, R-Georgia, said.

Last year, DeLay -- a prodigious fundraiser -- gave more money to congressional candidates than any other lawmaker.

A decade ago he was a relative unknown in a minority party. But DeLay was setting the type for his headliner status -- sending cash and care packages to the campaigns of Republican hopefuls in the class of '94.

"A candidate for Congress who would be out knocking on doors, meeting with supporters, talking about issues, debating his or her opponent would come back to the headquarters and they would say, 'This guy, Tom DeLay, just sent home-baked cookies from Texas," House Rules Committee chairman David Dreier, R-California, said.

When the House re-opened for business in 1995, Republicans were in charge for the first time in four decades. Many of them owed DeLay.

He was elected majority "whip," the person responsible for rounding up votes. He was very good at it. Someone once called him a cross between a concierge and a mafia don: a guy who delivered.

"He's the kind of person who would always reach out to help with your political needs, your congressional needs, your personal needs," former Rep. Bill Paxon, R-New York, said.

And DeLay expected loyalty.

"If anyone within his own party disagrees with him, they find an opponent waiting in the wings in the next primary. They find a threat to reduce the amount of funding available to them," former Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Texas, said.

On Capitol Hill, DeLay is know as "The Hammer," pounding money out of donors, pounding votes out of colleagues, pounding the Democrats.

Eric Smith, who was an aide to former House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt said, "There were countless times on the House floor when Democrats would feel like we'd finally pulled one off and we were finally gonna win, and the clock on the vote would stop and Tom DeLay would appear on the floor and Republican members would start walking to the well of the House to change their votes."

With eight years as whip and three as majority leader, DeLay is a brass-knuckles conservative in relentless pursuit of his agenda.

"Every morning when he wakes up, he's trying to figure out a way that the conservatives can win and the Democrats lose," said Stuart Roy, a former DeLay staffer who now is a media consultant and adviser to Progress for America, a conservative issue advocacy organization.

In Texas, Delay pushed the state legislature to redraw district lines to favor Republican candidates.

When minority Democrats fled the state to prevent a vote, DeLay called the Federal Aviation Administration to find out where they went.

"He was a bulldog, and he wasn't going to take no for an answer, " Stenholm said. "And some of his tactics are being reviewed by the proper legal authorities, and I'll leave it to them whether anything was illegal or not."

Drawn into a district he couldn't win, Stenholm is now a former congressman -- one of the Texas Democrats who lost their congressional seat in 2004.

And DeLay got six more Texas Republicans in Washington to help move the agenda: smaller government, lower taxes, fewer regulations.

He is the go-to guy for getting legislation through Congress. Donors want to give him money. Lobbyists want to please him, or at least not make him mad.

Power begets more power.

Delay warned pro-business lobbies to stop giving money to Democratic candidates. He pushed K Street (Washington speak for lobbyists and trade associations) to hire Republicans.

He expanded his reach.

"There are certainly a lot of people in the government-relations world -- public relations -- who are close to Tom DeLay and who are able to look out for him, be eyes and ears, that are just not the people on Capitol Hill," Roy said.

Bloomberg News found that more than 200 companies, coalitions and trade groups have hired former Delay employees as lobbyists

Never charged with violating House rules, Delay has skirted the edge and was warned by the House Ethics Committee on four occasions.

His colleagues are loyal, his critics intense. But all agree on one thing. As Erik Smith put it, "You know, that's the thing about DeLay: He always wins."

DeLay wields great power with no apologies and few boundaries, and no one takes odds against him.

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