Yes, but will the "bad guy" actually win his election?

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Under Jeff Cohen’s stewardship, the Chronicle has become a different newspaper than it was under Jack Loftis.

Not necessarily better, but different.

It’s no longer the mouthpiece it once was for the Greater Houston Partnership and other downtown interests. That’s an improvement.

Unfortunately, the paper that missed Enron continues to miss local stories that it should own. It continues to have major problems with basic journalism (like dates). And it has a tendency to go to absurd lengths to make sure all of Houston’s ethnic groups are properly represented in its stories. None of these is an improvement over the last regime.

One final distressing tendency is an editorial tendency to make certain figures into “bad guys.”

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Sugar Land) has been the favorite whipping boy in that regard for some time. Governor Rick Perry (R) is another favorite. More recently, Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal (R) has been under the gun (more to come on that).

Certainly, the Chronicle‘s editors are entitled to whatever editorial stance they’d like when it comes to prominent conservatives. However, it’s a problem when the editorial stance causes the newspaper to blow stories it should own. For example, the various ethics proceedings regarding Representative DeLay are surely fair game for the newspaper’s news and editorial writers, and fit well with the “bad guy” journalism that Cohen seems to like. However, in addition to what the Chronicle editors think of DeLay, shouldn’t it also be part of the story what his actual constituents think of him?

DeLay’s reconfigured district is 55% Republican. Thus, he enjoys a built in advantage. However, it’s not an insurmountable advantage. If DeLay had proven himself to be a wholly ineffective leader for his district, or out of touch with the values of his constituency (because of ethics charges or other behavior), one would expect that even the marginal sort of candidate who’s run against him in recent years could put up a serious challenge. Thus, one sure sign that the recent ethics proceedings are hurting DeLay significantly would be if polling or pundits were suddenly suggesting that the race was tight, and that Democrat Richard Morrison had moved from token to credible challenger.

Experts say that’s not the case. But for actual coverage of the race, one has to turn from the Chronicle to the Dallas Morning News of all places:

The redistricting plan that Mr. DeLay spearheaded wound up shedding Democratic precincts from his district, the 22nd. He remains popular among Christian conservatives in places like Sugar Land and southeastern Harris County, said Richard W. Murray, a political scientist at the University of Houston.

Mr. DeLay’s real fight will be in Washington, not at home, Mr. Murray said.

“The real risk is you become perceived in Washington among the other congressmen as a liability,” Mr. Murray said. “Then your risk is a coup within the Republican conference.”

Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace said Mr. DeLay remains a popular figure, owing to his commitment to the district and his community service.

“Politics is playing a great role in these issues [in Washington and Austin],” Mr. Wallace said. “That is the general feeling you have talking to the constituents.”

At the Baker Street Pub and Grill, a new restaurant close to City Hall, several GOP voters said they were paying attention to the controversies but still supported Mr. DeLay.

“He’s done good for the county,” said Roger Gulick, a 61-year-old engineer. “I don’t think he’d let himself hang out like that.”

Even those who said they dislike the majority leader’s aggressive style say they will probably vote for him in November.

Mr. Hennie, the high school teacher, said he once dealt with Mr. DeLay and left with the impression that Mr. DeLay was “very dictatorial.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Hennie and his wife, Linda, said they would vote for Mr. DeLay.

“You are in stronghold Republican territory,” Mr. Hennie said. “I’m sure he’ll win.”

Aside from Professor Murray (who, incidentally, has become a partisan Democrat activist and probably should have been identified as such), the respondents are mostly ordinary people or party officials, and the evidence presented mostly anecdotal. One has to trust that Dave Michaels actually got out to the district and interviewed enough people that he is accurately conveying the feeling on the ground in the district. That may or may not be the case. But it’s unfortunate that Houstonians have to turn to the Dallas Morning News for coverage of the race itself.

Indeed, the most recent coverage from John Williams’ underwhelming replacement as political columnist at the Chronicle doesn’t even mention the likely outcome of the race itself or thoughts of constituents or pundits, instead intimating that DeLay’s campaign may be in some trouble because he is actually spending time in his redrawn district.

(10-14-2004 Update) Above, I describe Tom DeLay’s district as 55% Republican. Greg Wythe notes that the Republican composition is actually higher, and that redistricting made the district more Republican. I relied upon Dave Michaels’ reporting for that 55% figure, but I should have caught it.

(10-14-2004 Update 2) Dave Michaels answered my email promptly, thanking us for the correction. I count this as an example of the self-correcting nature of the blogosphere in action. Since Michaels said he would alert his editor to the figure, mainstream media also benefits from the nature of the blogosphere in this instance.

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Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX