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Challenging Chet

Via Eye on Williamson, I see the national GOP is once again looking to try to beat Rep. Chet Edwards in CD17.

There’s little question Republicans are looking to target Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas), who could face yet another tough re-election in his solidly conservative Waco-based seat. The question is who his opponent will be.

Both experienced and inexperienced Republicans are preparing their Federal Election Commission forms in Texas’ 17th district, encouraged by a strong showing by poorly funded 2008 nominee Rob Curnock.

Curnock held Edwards to 53 percent of the vote, despite receiving almost no support from the national party. Curnock, a small-business owner from Waco, plans to run again and hopes this time he’ll receive more support from national and local party leaders.

I think the key here is to compare Edwards’ 2004 performance with his 2008 performance, since I believe the non-Presidential year will be more favorable to him as it was in 2006. Here’s a Google spreadsheet that compares Edwards’ performance in each of CD17’s counties to John Kerry in 2004 and to Barack Obama in 2008. What I did in each was compare Edwards’ performance to that of the Democratic presidential candidate, and then compared the ratio from 2004 to that of 2008.

I think the story of these two elections is in the three biggest counties: Brazos, Johnson, and McClennan. In 2004, Edwards barely eked out a plurality in Brazos, got clobbered in Johnson, and won big in McClennan. In 2008, Edwards won a solid majority in Brazos, improved noticeably in Johnson, and won a smaller majority in McClennan.

His improvement in Brazos, I believe, can be largely attributed to an overall improvement in Democratic performance there. John McCain got almost exactly as many votes as George Bush did, while Barack Obama added over 4000 votes to John Kerry’s tally; meanwhile, Curnock did almost as well as Arlene Wohlgemuth while Edwards increased his total by 5000 votes. While there were probably a few Wohlgemuth voters who switched to Edwards in 2008, for the most part there were just a lot more people voting Democratic.

By contrast, Edwards’ improvement in Johnson is all him. McCain gained 1800 votes over Bush, and Obama added 600 to Kerry’s total, leaving their percentage almost identical to 2004, while Curnock lost 1500 votes and Edwards added 4200. Clearly, Curnock was a weaker candidate than Wohlgemuth, who was also from Johnson County and surely benefited from being a hometown girl, but Edwards did more than just take advantage of that difference.

Finally, McClennan presents an interesting case. Edwards won it by 23,000 votes in 2004, and was in net negative territory everywhere else. In 2008, he would have won even if all of McClennan’s votes were thrown out, but he only carried McClennan by 16,000 votes, and that was with Obama getting 37% to Kerry’s 33%. Here, Curnock’s residency in Waco likely helped him. Similarly, a local issue having to do with water rights that Edwards tied around Wohlgemuth’s neck back in 2004 was not on the table this time around. Unlike Johnson County, not being Arlene Wohlgemuth, especially not being Arlene Wohlgemuth in 2004, worked to the GOP’s advantage.

Based on all this, I’d venture that Edwards will likely do fine in 2010, barring any national headwinds against the Dems. If the NRCC dream candidate of State Sen. Steve Ogden jumps in, that would make for a hell of a race, but Ogden is up for re-election himself in 2010, so he’d have to give up his Senate seat and his powerful spot as chair of the Finance Committee to do that. I don’t know that a chance to maybe be in the House minority is worth that, but we’ll see.

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