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MV4W,M.VMVAVAkt ‘ o , FEATURE Storming the Hill Can Arlene Wohlgemuth and the Religious Right Topple Congressman Chet Edwards? BY DAVE MANN Aly hen U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay mapmakers performed some creative editing on the state’s congressional districts in 2003, their dream candidate was probably someone a lot like Arlene Wohlgemuth. A flight instructor from the Fort Worth exurbs, the 57-year-old Wohlgemuth has become synonymous in Texas with the Christian Right’s rise to power. During her 10 years in the Texas Legislature, she has become one of the state’s most effective politicians. Her stern glare and ardent demeanor give off a “don’t mess with me” vibe, and those who don’t heed the warning usually come to regret it. Wohlgemuth’s fierceness is matched by her ideological purity. She is what Lee Atwater once termed an extra-chromosome conservative: Wohlgemuth espouses limited government and low taxes, is strongly anti-abortion, supports English as a national language, and favors a partial privatization of Social Security. She recently told the Waco Tribune-Herald that the state’s medical program?’ In short, Wohlgemuth is exactly the kind of fiber-conservative that DeLay and like-minded special interest groups want in the U.S. House of Representatives to forge a hard-right Republican majority. Wohlgemuth is running for Congress in Texas’ newly formed 17th District, which runs from Bryan-College Station in the south, up through Waco, and ends in the Fort Worth suburbs. The district is so tailor-made for a Wohlgemuth candidacy that many Texas political observers assume that DeLay’s operation crafted the 17th with her in mind. For starters, it’s 64 percent Republican. With her base of support in Johnson County, 20 miles south of Fort Worth, she doesn’t need to buy many ads in the district’s most expensive media market, Dallas-Fort Worth. In addition, the highly conservative Bryan-College Station area seems ripe for Wohlgemuth. The national significance of Wohlgemuth’s campaign is evident from the array of right-wing, special interest groups backing her candidacy. Among them, the Club for Growth has been Wohlgemuth’s biggest benefactor. Through August, the highly conservative, Washington, D.C.-based outfit had contributed nearly $500,000 to her campaign through donations and television spots on her behalf. \(Grover Norquist, of Americans for Tax Reform, famously exemplified the ideological bent of special interest groups like the Club for Growth when he described his intention to make government small the ideological stakes at play in the 17th District, the Club for Growth has given more to Wohlgemuth than to any other U.S. House candidate in the country. Despite those efforts, however, Wohlgemuth may well lose. The man standing in her path is Chet Edwards,. the seventerm Democratic congressman from Waco. At 52, Edwards is part of a dwindling breed of politician in Texas: the socially progressive, fiscally conservative Democrat. He is pro-gun rights, pro-death penalty, pro-Iraq war. He backs the Bush energy bill, and while pro choice, he supports bans on lateterm and so-called partial-birth abortions. As the state has tilted increasingly Republican in recent years, Edwards has made a habit of winning in a conservative district by con Republican State Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth photo: Jana Binh um 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 10/22/04