Democrat Chet Edwards fights to hold on to his job in one of the most Republican congressional districts in the country

Voters head to polls in one last big round of primaries before midterms.
By Karen Tumulty
Saturday, October 2, 2010; 9:08 PM

MCGREGOR, TEX. - It's tough these days for Democratic incumbents all over, but nowhere more so than here, where Rep. Chet Edwards is - once again - fighting for his political life.

Of all the House Democrats running for reelection this year, none represents a more deeply red district than this one. It is ranked the 19th most heavily Republican in the country by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. Among Edwards's constituents is former President George W. Bush, who is registered to vote at his Crawford ranch.

Conservative Democrats used to be the norm in Texas, but Edwards finds himself one of the last of a most endangered species.

Over two decades in the House, Edwards has been able to survive by carefully tending to the moods and the desires of the conservative voters back home.

Edwards has frequently broken with his party on high-profile votes, including opposing such signature Obama administration initiatives as the health-care overhaul and the cap-and-trade climate bills. He boasts of his endorsement by the National Rifle Association and his recent "guardian of small business" award from the National Federation of Independent Business.

Just as important, Edwards has deftly maneuvered the system in Washington, regardless of which party was in power. As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, he has brought plenty of money back to central Texas, being particularly attentive to veterans programs as chairman of the military construction and veterans affairs subcommittee. In 2003, when the Bush administration targeted the Waco Veterans Affairs hospital for closure, for instance, Edwards and the state's two Republican senators united to stop it.

This year, however, a long record of being good at your job is not necessarily an asset.

"The anger is stronger this year than before - similar to 1994," Edwards said in an interview, as he prepared to march in a Founders' Day parade in this small town just west of Waco. "There's a lot of frustration with hyperpartisanship in Washington. There's a sense that government tried to overreach."

Many of the most endangered Democrats this year are relative newcomers to Washington, elected to the 55 House seats that the party picked up in the 2006 and 2008 elections. But polls suggest that some veteran lawmakers may be swept away as well.

In addition to Edwards, Democrats are nervous about the seats of such longtime House members as 17-term House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton in Missouri; 14-term House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt in South Carolina, and nine-term Rep. Earl Pomeroy in North Dakota.

The latest GOP poll has Edwards's opponent, retired oil and gas executive Bill Flores, running nearly 20 points ahead in a campaign that is turning more bitter with each round of attack ads. Edwards has declined to release his own poll numbers, but insisted that the race remains winnable.

The anti-incumbent mood is not the only thing going against Edwards.

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