Time’s Belinda Luscombe has the skinny on how hard it was for ABC’s "Dancing with the Stars" to land former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay: "When [casting director Deena] Katz reached out to former Texas Congressman Tom DeLay via his book agent, she didn't soften up the ground in advance. ‘It was a Hail Mary pass,’ she admits. Twenty minutes later, DeLay was in."
They’ve tried to hard to cast a politician. "I’ve made no secret of the fact that Bill Clinton would be my ultimate get," said executive producer Conrad Green. "I think we got as far as 'Hello, this is Dancing wi--'" Luscombe added:
Absent Clinton, DWTS's ideal political candidate is an elected official with a national profile, who has the time and stamina for five hours of rehearsal six days a week. Most incumbents are too busy, most retired politicians are too frail, and most losing candidates are too forgotten. That pretty much narrows it down to someone whose political career was cut short after a big scandal and -- since the show's core audience is older women -- preferably one that didn't involve infidelity. (Put the tux back in storage, John Edwards.)
So how is Clinton the "ultimate get," then?
DeLay can’t possibly have a more embarrassing debut than former CNN and MSNBC host Tucker Carlson, who spent most of his dance in a chair. For the less political, Luscombe quickly summed up DeLay’s situation, without the whole partisan Democrat county prosecutor Ronnie Earle angle:
Quick refresher course on Tom DeLay: he was a 10-term Republican Congressman, at one time considered the most powerful man in the House, nicknamed the Hammer for his ability to unite Republicans and push bills through. Four years ago, he was indicted by a Texas grand jury for conspiring to violate campaign-finance-reform laws. He maintains his innocence; he has not yet been tried. Quick refresher course on DWTS: people wear sparkly outfits and compete to win a mirror ball.
Luscombe is generally much kinder to DeLay than Time usually is, but there is this gotcha:
It makes a difference that DeLay comes to the show as a fan. For many of the male contestants, the biggest stumbling block is what producers call the entourage factor: What will the guy's friends say? But DeLay had already outed himself when, in 2006, he e-mailed his supporters, urging them to vote for country star Sara Evans' "good American values" against Jerry Springer and his "smut" (to no avail, since Evans left the show voluntarily around the same time she announced her divorce).
Still, the conclusion is nicer than might be expected:
It's nigh impossible to win an election while under indictment. After four years, DeLay still doesn't have a court date. His consulting business is not so consuming that he can't spare five hours a day to dance. So might this be a new chapter for the Hammer? "Since I left Congress, I've gone through several new chapters," he says. "I have no idea what my future holds." Perhaps he just wants to get on the floor again and fight for something. It's unlikely he'll prevail, but he will have gone down swinging.
UPDATE: Bill Maher's Twitter page erupted:
Dancing with the scum - Tom Delay is on the dancing show?!! You know who loved to waltz? Stalin. Was David Duke unavailable?
Screencap of TIME.com shown above depicts a photo illustration by Lou Beach for Time. The picture of DeLay was taken by Michael Stravato for Getty Images.