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Can Texas’ Democratic Congressmen Hang on?

Edwards, Ortiz and Rodriguez face possible GOP wave
by Published on
U.S. Army photo by D. Myles Cullen
Chet Edwards and Gen. George Casey

This is the day Republicans have waited four years for—the day they can reclaim control of the U.S. House of Representatives. The GOP needs to gain 39 seats nationwide to put Ohio’s John Boehner in the speaker’s chair. We’ll be closely watching the three hotly contested congressional races here in Texas. All three seats are currently held by long-time Democratic incumbents facing tough races: Corpus Christi’s Solomon Ortiz, San Antonio’s Ciro Rodriguez and, perhaps most endangered, Waco’s Chet Edwards.

Many observers believe Ortiz and Rodriguez have the best chance of surviving, while the conventional wisdom posits that Edwards is a goner. He may be the most endangered Democrat in the country.

Edwards’ district is about 65 percent Republican—one of the most conservative districts in the nation still represented by a Democrat. Of course, Edwards has been written off many times before only to confound the pundits (and the GOP). He’s consistently won reelection by pitching himself as a moderate and attracting crossover Republican voters and independents. This year, however, he’s faced perhaps his most daunting race. He finds himself a 19-year incumbent Democrat dealing with an electorate that, according to polls, is feeling anti-incumbent and pro-Republican.

The GOP is downright giddy at the prospect that businessman and first-time Republican candidate Bill Flores will be the one to finally oust Edwards. And that seemed awfully likely until the final weeks of the campaign, when Flores, who had largely remained disciplined and mistake free, starting making gaffes. First he told WFAA television in Dallas that he favored raising the retirement age for Social Security. He compounded that mistake by later retracting the comment and blaming it on a “headache.”

A grateful Edwards jumped all over Flores. Then, in late October, the National Republican Congressional Committee scrapped its plans for a last-minute ad blitz on behalf of Flores, choosing instead to spend the money elsewhere.

Democrats immediately claimed the NRCC pulled its ads because Flores was behind. Republicans countered that the national Republicans canceled the ads because Flores is so far ahead. We’ll find out who’s right tonight. It seems odd that national Republicans would take an Edwards defeat for granted and pull their ads after he’s trounced them so many times before. Edwards has been running a late ad blitz of his own that may give him a boost.

Still, the NRCC has already spent about $500,000 on Flores’ behalf (compared to just $58,000 that national Democrats have given Edwards), according to The Hill newspaper. And Karl Rove’s corporate-funded American Crossroads group has targeted Edwards with television ads in the final weeks of the campaign, which may make up for the NRCC pullout. Moreover, this recent poll found Flores leading by 12 points.

One thing is certain: Republicans will never have a better chance to beat Chet Edwards. If they can’t do it tonight, they probably never will.

We’ll have more reports on all three races throughout the day and into the night.

See more of our Election Night coverage.

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.