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Now, he faces a charge that he conspired with two aides to violate a Texas law that bars the use of corporate money to fund candidates for state office. The money was allegedly funneled to Texas via the Republican National Committee.

Public perceptions of corruption in Washington raise memories of the 1994 electoral tsunami that swept the Democrats out of power in Congress. For the 2005 Republicans, DeLay's problems are just the latest piece of bad news: Senate majority leader Bill Frist of Tennessee is under federal investigation over a stock sale. The Bush administration's top federal procurement official, David Safavian, was arrested this month and accused of obstructing a criminal investigation into GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff - who also has ties to DeLay. And a cloud still hangs over top Bush aides in a probe into the leak of a CIA agent's identity.

Are Republicans worried they could face the same fate as the Democrats of 1994? "We'd be whistling past the graveyard to think this won't be a problem for us," says Mr. Tancredo. "I don't think I've ever seen a more difficult road ahead for the Republican Party."

Charlie Cook, editor of a nonpartisan political newsletter, says it would still take a tidal wave for the Democrats to take over the House and Senate - but recent developments "are how tidal waves are created."

Early this year, Democrats had already signaled they were going to follow the Republican playbook of 1994 - calling the majority party arrogant, ideological, out of touch, and corrupt, regardless of events, Mr. Cook notes. Now, he writes, "these stories against DeLay and Frist help build the Democratic case."

In a time of intense partisanship, there's always a possibility that Democrats will overplay their hand. And polls show the Democrats have not gained much from the Republicans' loss in approval - though in generic polls, a majority of the public now says it would prefer having a Democratic representative in Washington than a Republican. The Democrats themselves know they have to craft a distinct and compelling agenda - and recruit top-notch candidates - to build a successful tidal wave.

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