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Poll: DeLay faces political woes at home

Criminal charges against Texas lawmaker appear to take a toll

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Tom DeLay's attorneys have been pressing for a quick trial.

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(CNN) -- A poll released Monday evening suggests the criminal charges against Rep. Tom DeLay have taken a toll on his political support back home in his solidly Republican House district.

Close to half of the registered voters in a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll said they would be likely to vote for an unnamed Democratic opponent next year. (Poll results)

Conducted by telephone Thursday through Sunday, the poll was released hours after a judge threw out one of the charges against DeLay. (Full story)

The poll also found that 55 percent of the registered voters in Texas' 22nd Congressional District believe the charges against the former House majority leader are definitely or probably true.

Respondents were evenly split on the question of whether the prosecution is politically motivated, as DeLay has charged.

When registered voters were asked for their opinion of DeLay, 52 percent said it was unfavorable, while 37 percent said they viewed him favorably.

Despite negative headlines from a string of ethics complaints, DeLay in 2004 won 55 percent of the vote to Democrat Richard Morrison's 41 percent in the 22nd District, which includes parts of four suburban counties south of Houston. President Bush also easily carried all four counties.

But when 713 registered voters in the new poll were asked whether they were likely to choose DeLay or a Democrat in the 2006 midterm election, 49 percent said they would pick the Democrat; 36 percent said they would likely support DeLay, who has represented the district since 1984.

The sampling error for the poll was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

However, the poll also showed that voters in the district were, at this point, largely unfamiliar with the most prominent of DeLay's potential Democratic opponents, former Rep. Nick Lampson.

Asked their opinion of Lampson, 61 percent of registered voters said they were unfamiliar with him, while 28 percent viewed him favorably and 11 percent unfavorably.

In October, DeLay and two associates were indicted on money-laundering and conspiracy charges for their alleged role in funneling $190,000 in corporate donations from a political action committee created by DeLay to GOP legislative candidates in Texas in 2002.

After the state races solidified Republican legislative control, a bitterly fought mid-census redistricting push helped the GOP pick up five Texas congressional seats in 2004. Lampson was among those failing to win re-election.

Under Texas law, it is illegal for corporations to donate to political campaigns.

On Monday, a judge dismissed the conspiracy charge but upheld the money-laundering counts.

DeLay has denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.

The poll found that only 15 percent of the registered voters in DeLay's district thought the charges against him were definitely true. But another 40 percent thought they were probably true, compared with 26 percent who said they were probably false and 8 percent who said they were definitely false.

Politically motivated?

The congressman and his attorneys have accused the prosecutor in the case, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, of having a political motivation for bringing the charges. Earle has denied the allegation.

When registered voters in the 22nd District were asked their opinion about why the charges were brought, 46 percent said the prosecution was an effort to enforce the law, while 45 percent said it was to hurt DeLay politically.

Asked for their opinion of Earle, 21 percent said it was favorable, and 22 percent said it was unfavorable -- but 57 percent said they were not familiar with him.

Earle is the elected prosecutor in Austin, the state capital, which is more than 160 miles away from the 22nd District.

DeLay, 58, from Sugar Land in Fort Bend County, became majority whip after Republicans took control of the House in 1994 and moved up to majority leader in 2003 after the retirement of fellow Texan Dick Armey.

Monday's decision by state District Judge Pat Priest is a partial legal victory for DeLay, but it will not allow him to reclaim his former job as majority leader.

House GOP rules forced him to give up the post when he was indicted on criminal charges in October.

DeLay's attorneys had pressed for dismissal of all charges in order to resolve the case and allow him to return to the No. 2 leadership post in the House.

DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden said the judge's ruling dismissing some of the charges "underscores just how baseless and politically motivated the charges were."

DeLay's attorneys have been pressing for a quick trial. But at a hearing last month, Priest said he doubted the case could be brought to trial before the end of the year.

DeLay's attorneys have argued the financial transactions that took place are legal, because the money sent to Washington was not the same money that was returned to Texas. His defense also maintains that he wasn't involved in transferring the money.

CNN's Ed Henry contributed to this report.

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