PR-community friends help Tom DeLay combat image woes

WASHINGTON: As House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) faces increasing scrutiny over various allegations of ethical lapses, a powerful cadre of friends and colleagues is stepping up to help protect his image - and his job.

WASHINGTON: As House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) faces increasing scrutiny over various allegations of ethical lapses, a powerful cadre of friends and colleagues is stepping up to help protect his image - and his job.

Barbara Comstock, a former director of research and strategic planning for the Republican National Committee (RNC), has emerged as head of DeLay's PR offensive.

Former DeLay communications director Stuart Roy, now at DCI Group, and Jonathan Grella, a former press secretary now at Edelman, are also volunteering their aid.

Comstock said the PR strategy so far is centered on an earned media campaign, rapid response techniques, and placing supporters on cable news channels and radio talk shows. Comstock is also arranging for the distribution of talking points with facts about the congressman to people in conservative groups, as well as former Hill staffers who are friendly to DeLay.

"Part of this effort is to tap into the strong reserve of support in the conservative community," she added.

Comstock, a principal in Blank Rome's government affairs practice, is a paid member of DeLay's legal team.

Other prominent conservatives, such as former Department of Justice director of public affairs Mark Corallo, and former members of Congress, such as Reps. Bob Livingston and Susan Molinari (president of Ketchum's lobbying arm, The Washington Group), have been asked to speak out on DeLay's behalf, according to Comstock.

Ultimately, the loose-knit team wants to do more than clear DeLay's name, said Roy.

"There are people who want to make sure Tom DeLay more than survives this.... that he thrives after defeating these charges," he said.

DeLay has taken to scheduling informal "pen and pad briefings," drawing about 30 to 40 reporters, according to Grella. The DeLay press office also fields more than 100 calls a day and tries to answer every question.

But liberal groups have been no less active in their efforts to tarnish and ultimately unseat the majority leader Moveon.org, Campaign for America's Future (CAF), and Common Cause have been using Fenton Communications to assist with their efforts.

Toby Chaudhuri, communications director for CAF, said his group has been using television and print ads, news conferences, press and releases to communicate with the public and the media on DeLay. They say his ethical lapses have reached the point where the public should no longer tolerate his hold on power.

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