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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

DeLay’s Spin Cycle

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay resorted to hyperbole Wednesday when he claimed that he was tried and convicted for money laundering in the nation’s most liberal county. It’s liberal all right, but dozens of other counties are more so.

"I was tried in the most liberal county in the state of Texas, and indeed in the United States," DeLay said on NBC’s "Today Show." "The point is that this is a political campaign." DeLay appeared on the show two days after being sentenced to three years in prison. He is free while pursuing a promised appeal,  claiming his prosecution was politically motivated.

DeLay, the Republican firebrand and former exterminator, has a point about Travis County. It is certainly among the more liberal in the state, and the U.S. It’s home to the state capital, Austin, and the University of Texas, and it’s where the organic grocery chain Whole Foods got its start. But if "liberal" is measured by the percentage of votes that went to Democrat Barack Obama in 2008, then Travis, at 64 percent, doesn’t come out on top. More than a dozen counties in the state had greater percentages than that. They include Hidalgo (69 percent for Obama), Webb (72 percent), Presidio (71 percent), Zavala (84 percent) and Jim Hogg (74 percent).

In the U.S., of course, there are many dozens of counties that showed greater support for Obama than did Travis, including many that might not immediately come to mind. To name just a few: Glacier, Mont., 69 percent; Benson, N.D., 66 percent; Ingham, Mich., 66 percent; Yolo, Calif., 67 percent; and Edgecombe, N.C., 67 percent. 

There are, of course, other ways to measure liberalism. The Daily Caller, a conservative online publication, came up with a list last year of the 100 most liberal counties in the U.S. The website went to some trouble doing its calculations, factoring in percentage of the vote that went to John Kerry and Barack Obama, number of Whole Foods stores in the county and the severity of local smoking bans, among other criteria. San Francisco came in first. Travis was ranked 57th.

By that metric, Travis falls among the most liberal 2 percent of counties. (There are 3,068 of them in the U.S., according to the National Association of Counties, which includes Louisiana’s "parishes" and Alaska’s "boroughs" as counties.)

But "the" most liberal? That one won’t stand up in court.