GOP Candidate Faces Battle in Bush District

Republicans hold every statewide elected office in Texas, rule both legislative houses and are expected to soon control the congressional delegation. This is clearly Bush country.

Yet the GOP may have trouble breaking the Democrats' grip in the congressional district that includes the president's Crawford ranch — even after the state's map of congressional districts was redrawn to favor Republicans.

The winner of the District 17 Republican runoff election Tuesday, between state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth (search) and former Waco school board member Dot Snyder, faces a formidable Democratic foe in seven-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards (search) of Waco.

Political analysts say even some Republican voters may prefer the more experienced Edwards, who is the ranking member of the Appropriations Military Construction subcommittee.

"All incumbents have a huge advantage. Incumbents almost never lose," said Harvey Tucker, a political science professor at Texas A&M University in College Station, which is in the district.

District 17 was one of several redrawn by Texas lawmakers last year to bolster Republicans in the congressional delegation, currently split 16-16. Democrats say the map was designed to dilute their power, while Republicans say they're trying to more accurately reflect Texas voting trends.

Edwards, who won with only 52 percent of the vote in 2002, was a natural target of redistricting.

"It's a point of pride for us to be near the hometown of the president, and this district should be represented by a Republican," said Christopher DeCluitt, president of the Waco-based McLennan County Republican Club (search).

After representing District 11 for 13 years, Edwards decided to run in the new 180-mile-long District 17. It encompasses about one-third of the old district, including Waco and Crawford, but not Fort Hood in Killeen, where Edwards had strong support.

Edwards has voted mainly along party lines. He voted against faith-based charities, the Bush tax cuts, banning partial-birth abortions and limiting noneconomic damages for liability awards in the patients' bill of rights.

But he also voted to send U.S. troops to Iraq, to arm commercial pilots and to bar funds for the International Criminal Court.

Edwards says he has worked on a bipartisan basis and that military defense companies, the real estate industry and farmers have supported him through the years. He denies Wohlgemuth's and Snyder's claims that he is ultra-liberal.

"It's the same old message that failed my past opponent ... because it's simply not true," Edwards said.

So far, the women have not attacked Edwards as much as they have battled each other — criticizing each other's actions, stances on issues and even debating how and when to debate.

The negative campaigning apparently is affecting some voters.

Mira Jarrett, a registered massage therapist from College Station, voted in the Republican primary for retired Army Col. Dave McIntyre, who did not advance to the runoff.

"I'll vote for whoever doesn't sling mud. It was like a cat fight," Jarrett said. "I want to hear the facts. What are you going to do to improve my life and my son's life? What are you going to do to make Texas a better state?"