The fourth electoral chapter in the history of District 17 will be written Tuesday when the race between Chet Edwards and Bill Flores is decided. The previous three chapters show trends that would likely have to continue for Edwards to win re-election to the U.S. House.
As part of redistricting that took place before the 2004 general election, Edwards inherited a shot at winning a 12-county cut of the state stretching from the suburbs of Fort Worth down through Waco and to Bryan/College Station. Each time, the incumbent Democrat from Waco has pulled out victories in the highly-conservative district.
In 2004, Edwards defeated State Representative Arlene Wohlgemuth by eight percentage points. In 2006, the gap widened, as Edwards scored an 18-point win over retired Marine Van Taylor. Small business owner Rob Curnock pulled closer, but lost to Edwards by 7.5 percent in 2008.
In the only independent poll conducted for this race -- one commissioned by The Hill newspaper out of Washington -- the Republican Flores held a 12-point advantage as of mid-October. Surveys released by each campaign have showed Flores on top by varying margins, though Edwards camp has said the incumbent is within striking distance according to its polling.
While there are many different paths to a victory, the previous three election years have followed similar road maps that have each ended in Edwards wins, though if the polls are to be believed, Flores may have put up road blocks in 2010.
McLennan's Importance to Edwards
About a third of the voter turnout each year in District 17 comes out of McLennan County, where Waco is the seat. Edwards has scored easy victories in his home county. He earned 64 percent of the vote in 2004, 65 percent in 2006, and 60 percent in 2008. In fact, his landslide win of McLennan in 2004 was a deciding factor. Take that county out of the equation, and Wohlgemuth wins when the other 11 counties are tallied.
Tough Sledding Up North
Northern counties in the district haven't been kind to Edwards. In each of the previous three elections, he has lost Johnson and Hood. In 2004 and 2008, tiny Somervell County also went into the GOP column. The margins on Johnson and Hood have varied. In 2006, Taylor only won Johnson by seven votes out of nearly 30,000 cast. But regardless, besides those three northernmost counties, Edwards has only lost one other county in the previous three elections. Ironically, it was the southernmost county, Grimes, in 2004.
Banking on Brazos
Edwards, an Aggie, barely won the second biggest county in the district in terms of turnout in 2004. Wohlgemuth trailed by just 268 votes out of more than 53,000 cast in Brazos County. But in subsequent years, Edwards has run away with the home of his alma mater, scoring 16- and 11-point wins in 2006 and 2008 respectively. This will be the first time Edwards faces a candidate from the southern half of District 17. Flores, also an Aggie, has lived in Bryan for the last four years.
The Big Five and Smaller Wins
Combine the five biggest counties in District 17 when it comes to turnout -- in order, McLennan, Brazos, Johnson, Hood and Hill -- and you'll find an average of about 86 percent of the votes in each election. In 2004, Edwards won those five combined by three percentage points. In 2006, it was a 16-point margin of victory for Edwards. In 2008, he won the big five by 6.5 points.
The Little Seven and Bigger Wins
While accounting for less than 15 percent of turnout each year, Edwards has dominated in the seven smaller counties. Despite losing two of the seven in 2004, Edwards had an eight-point advantage in Bosque, Burleson, Grimes, Limestone, Madison, Robertson and Somervell combined. The incumbent swept all seven in 2006, winning them by a 28-point margin. In 2008, Edwards held a 14-point advantage in the smallest counties.
For a more detailed look at the numbers in previous District 17 elections, click on the icons at the top of this story.
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