Republicans Win Belated Legal Battles, but Elections Can’t Be Undone

by Nathan L. Gonzales September 26, 2013 · 12:14 PM EDT

You can’t rewrite history, but Republicans probably wish you could.

While two high-profile former GOP officeholders — Texas Rep. Tom DeLay and the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens — have now had their convictions overturned or dismissed, Republicans are still dealing with the political consequences.

It’s easy to forget the electoral impact of DeLay’s and Stevens’ legal problems at the time.

DeLay, the former House majority leader, stepped down from his post in fall 2005 when a grand jury convicted him of campaign finance violations. He eventually resigned from office in June 2006 and was later convicted in fall 2010.

DeLay’s Houston-area House seat fell into Democratic hands in 2006, when Democrat Nick Lampson defeated write-in Republican Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, 52 percent to 42 percent. Republicans would regain the seat two years later, but DeLay was the poster-child for Democrats’ “culture of corruption” message that helped them gain 31 seats and the House majority in 2006.

Last week, DeLay’s conviction was overturned by a three-judge panel.

But while the Republicans regained the majority in the House after the 2010 elections, the Stevens verdict had (and could have) long-lasting implications in the Senate.

During the 2008 campaign, FBI and IRS agents raided Stevens’ Alaska home in an investigation that centered on a large addition to the senator’s home and whether Stevens paid enough or was charged enough for the work. He was convicted eight days before the election, and Democrat Mark Begich won 47.8 percent to 46.5 percent. The conviction was voided and indictment dismissed five months after the election.

Only the most partisan Democrats would argue that the conviction didn’t affect the outcome of the race. But the electoral fallout from that ruling is still playing out today.

Without the timely conviction, the Alaska seat would likely be in Republican hands, reducing the number of seats necessary for GOP majority in 2014 from six to five. Now, Republicans need to defeat incumbent Begich next fall, which is not impossible, but fundamentally different from having a GOP incumbent to defend.

If Republicans are able to take over the three Democratic open seats in West Virginia, Montana, and South Dakota, the GOP would need to defeat just two incumbents for a majority. Of course that also means that if the party had nominated more electable candidates in Nevada, Colorado, Indiana, Delaware and Missouri over the last two elections (along with the lack of a Stevens conviction), the GOP might be in the majority already.