WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Rep. Tom DeLay, the former House Republican leader so powerful he was nicknamed "The Hammer," said Tuesday he will resign from Congress and drop out of his re-election race to protect his congressional seat from a Democratic victory.
"I refuse to allow liberal Democrats an opportunity to steal this seat with a negative personal campaign," DeLay said in a video announcement released Tuesday, a few hours after the news broke of his decision.
DeLay, 58, had been expected to wage a vigorous fight for his House seat against former Rep. Nick Lampson, a Democrat who lost his seat in an adjacent district in 2004. Lampson's loss came after DeLay and his allies pushed a controversial reapportionment plan through the Texas Legislature that made Lampson's district more Republican. (Watch why the once-powerful GOP leader is leaving the House -- 2:12)
But DeLay is facing both criminal charges and the political fallout from his close association with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
He said he is making the move because he wanted the political campaign in his Houston-area district to focus on the issues people care about -- "not a campaign focused solely as a referendum on me."
"My love for the Republican Party has played no small part in this decision," he said.
Democrats retaking Congress, he said, would be disastrous, replete with tax hikes, a cut-and-run stance in the war on terror and antics such as a presidential impeachment gambit.
DeLay was forced to step down as House majority leader last September, after he was indicted in Texas on charges that he improperly steered corporate donations to state legislative candidates in 2002. (Full story)
He has denied any wrongdoing, pleading not guilty and saying he has "no fear whatsoever" of any investigation.
However, a senior DeLay adviser told CNN that DeLay "has just had enough" and that "the toll on his family has been too great."
In his statement Tuesday, DeLay said it was time to move on.
"After many weeks of personal, prayerful thinking and analysis, I have come to the conclusion that it is time to close this public service chapter of my life," DeLay said.
"It's time to begin opening new chapters and pursuing new opportunities to engage in the important cultural and political battles of our day from outside the arena of the United States House of Representatives," said DeLay.
"I have no regrets today and no doubt. I am proud of the past and I am at peace with the present and I'm excited about the future, which holds as always America's brightest days and mine, too. Thank you and may God bless you all. He has certainly blessed me."
DeLay said he will make his resignation effective sometime before mid-June but the timing will depend largely on the congressional calendar. Between now and then, he said, he will focus on legislative priorities for his district.
Republican congressional sources on Monday night told CNN that DeLay was calling supporters and colleagues to tell them of his decision.
DeLay told Time magazine that he would change his legal residence to Virginia, a maneuver that would make him ineligible to run for office in Texas and allow the GOP to pick a new nominee for the fall election. His resignation would also trigger a special election to fill the remaining months of his term. (Interview)
In addition to his indictment in Texas, DeLay has suffered politically from his association with Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to a variety of corruption charges and has been cooperating with investigators looking into allegations of corruption on Capitol Hill.
While DeLay has not been linked to wrongdoing in the Abramoff probe, two of his former staffers -- Tony Rudy and Michael Scanlon -- have pleaded guilty to corruption charges. (Full story)
Despite his indictment and the fallout from the Abramoff investigation, DeLay easily beat three challengers to win the March GOP primary in Texas' 22nd District, in Houston's southeast suburbs. It was his first electoral test since his indictment.
First elected to Congress in 1984, DeLay became House majority whip when Republicans took control of Congress after the 1994 midterm election. In that role, DeLay was responsible for securing votes for the leadership, which earned him the nickname "The Hammer." (Profile)
After fellow Texan Dick Armey retired as majority leader in 2002, DeLay stepped into the position, the No. 2 post in the House. While popular with his GOP colleagues, he was a lightning rod for criticism from Democrats, especially after he was admonished three times by the House Ethics Committee.
DeLay and two associates are facing trial in Texas on a money-laundering charge for their alleged role in funneling $190,000 in corporate donations from a political action committee created by DeLay to Texas GOP legislative candidates in 2002.
The money was sent from the DeLay-affiliated PAC to the Republican National Committee in Washington, which then sent $190,000 back to Texas candidates.
Prosecutors charge the transfers were nothing more than a scheme to circumvent a Texas law banning corporate donations to political campaigns. But DeLay's attorneys have insisted the transfers were legal and that, even if they weren't, DeLay was not directly involved in making them.
DeLay has accused the prosecutor who brought the charge, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, of conducting a political vendetta, a charge Earle has denied.