Now that we don’t have Tom DeLay to kick around any more, what are the prospects that the Republicans can effectively mount a write-in campaign against Democratic nominee Nick Lampson? Start with the rules: A candidate must file a Declaration of Write-In Candidacy with the Secretary of State’s office by August 29, accompanied by a filing fee of $3,125 or a petition with 500 valid signatures. There is no limit to the number of write-in candidates, except that anyone who ran for the office and lost in the primary is ineligible. Thus, Tom Campbell, who was the runner-up to DeLay in the Republican primary, cannot run, nor can the other two candidates who challenged DeLay. The names of qualifying candidates will not appear on the ballot. Instead, there is a space for write-ins. A list of those who qualified will be posted in the polling room and in individual polling booths. No party affiliation will be listed by their names. Voters do not have to write in the name of their choice by hand; it can be spelled on an electronic voting machine.

These are the rules. Now, here’s how the politics are shaping up. State Representative Robert Talton of Pasadena will not make the race because he would have to give up his seat to run. Had the courts upheld GOP state chairman Tina Benkiser’s decision that DeLay was ineligible to run and thus should be removed from the ballot, DeLay’s replacement would have been named by a panel of precinct and county officials from the four counties in the district (Harris, Fort Bend, Brazoria, Galveston) and Talton was the odds-on favorite to win. State Representative Charlie Howard, of Sugar Land, has previously shown interest in the race, faced the same unpleasant up-or-out choice as Talton did and made the same decision to stay put. That leaves two likely major candidates, Sugar Land mayor David Wallace and Houston city council member Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, and possibly a third in Fort Bend County Commissioner Andy Meyers.

Wallace starts with some advantages. He has close ties to big-bucks campaign contributor Bob Perry, the Houston homebuilder. He will have the support of the business community. But he has some baggage too. He ousted former mayor Dean Hrbacek in a bitter race that no doubt has some leftover hard feelings. He has never been a darling of religious conservatives. But he has good name identification and the ability to raise a lot of money. Even so, the difficulties of a write-in candidacy are staggering. Many voters will have no idea that there is such a candidacy. Unity is critical; the Republican Party, including the congressional delegation from the four counties, needs to band together behind one candidate. But if more than one candidate qualifies as a write-in, the vote will be split, perhaps several times over. Never underestimate regional rivalries; Houston may not want a congressman from Fort Bend County, and Fort Bend County may not want a congressman from Houston, and Galveston and Brazoria may not want either. But if the chosen Republican loses on election day, he or she will probably keep right on running for 2008.

DeLay and the Republican party have argued from the start that the Democrats and the courts are depriving the voters of District 22 of a choice for who they want to represent the district in Congress. But the two people who could have avoided this outcome are both Republicans. One, of course, is DeLay; had he not withdrawn from the race, he would have remained the Republican nominee and might have won. The other is Rick Perry. When DeLay resigned from Congress, the governor could have promptly called a special election to replace him. Once DeLay’s successor had been chosen, the courts might have decided that the Democrats’ lawsuit was moot. Republicans, of course, were worried that Lampson might win the special election, but could that situation be any worse than what the Rs face now?