US Democrat fights for political life in Bush country

* Popular centrist Democrat in battle in Texas

* Long-time supporters desert him in anti-Obama vote

By Ed Stoddard

CRAWFORD, Texas, Oct 24 (BestGrowthStock) – Deep in the red heart
of Texas, a Democrat is fighting for his political life.

Chet Edwards is a 10-term U.S. congressman in a district
that is conservative to the core and includes Crawford, home to
the ranch of former Republican President George W. Bush.

A centrist who supports abortion rights, Edwards has long
defied the odds in a district the Cook Partisan Voting Index
ranks as the most Republican currently held by a Democrat.

But 2010 is open season on Democrats, and Edwards, an avid
dove hunter who exudes an earthy “good old boy” charm, is in a
heated battle against Republican Bill Flores, a businessman
campaigning on a platform of fiscal conservatism. Most polls
and local pundits give Flores a lead.

U.S. voters will elect 435 members of the House of
Representatives and fill 37 of the 100 seats in the Senate in
the election on Nov. 2.

The Democrats will likely lose their majority in the House,
which would curtail President Barack Obama’s ability to pursue
his agenda for the remainder of his current term in office.

Several residents of this far-flung rural district who
backed Edwards before said this time they were voting against
Obama in a poll widely seen as a referendum on his economic
policies.

Warren Johnson, 60, who runs a ranch for a community
college, is one. Johnson, who supports the conservative Tea
Party movement, said he cast his ballot for Flores in early
voting.

Johnson said Edwards lost his vote during the debate over
health care reform, Obama’s signature domestic initiative.
Edwards didn’t vote for the final version of the bill but did
cast yes votes during some of its procedural stages.

“I went to his town hall meetings during the health care
debate and he didn’t commit. And when he finally made the
commitment to vote against it, it was because they had enough
votes to pass it,” said Johnson, who has a Tea Party sign in
front of his heavily-wooded 12-acre (five-hectare) property in
Crawford.

Edwards says those procedural votes were just to set the
rules and his opponents have portrayed them unfairly.

“I voted against the health care bill twice and those were
the key votes,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Edwards also made a short-list of vice-presidential running
mates for Obama, and that doesn’t sit well in these parts.

“Many people are voting as a referendum on the government
and he’s on the wrong side of that now, especially in the state
of Texas … and he has a centrist voting record, he’s not
really in the conservative ‘blue-dog Democrat’ category,” said
Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University in
Houston.

RUNNING WITH WOLVES

Edwards has won hearts and minds here with support for
veterans and their benefits. Even those who won’t vote for him
this time like a man whose personality has trumped party.

“They are a bunch of radical socialists who have hijacked
the Democratic Party. Chet is a good guy but he’s running with
the wolves,” said Jimmy Don Holmes, 39, a heavyset welder who
runs a metal art and welding shop in Crawford.

Holmes has voted for Edwards since he finished high school
but he won’t do so this year.

Others remain loyal to Edwards, who has spent years
building political capital in the area.

Jamie Burgess, whose family runs a small souvenir shop in
Crawford selling Bush memorabilia, plans to vote for Edwards
again.

“When we opened the shop in 2000, he came in and bought
local art work from us to decorate his offices in Waco and
Washington. He gave us a boost,” Burgess said.

In the town of Cleburne, realtor Rick Cumins says he has
long supported Edwards but hasn’t made up his mind.

“I’m going to check a couple of more things before I tick
the box,” he said.

Edwards himself is guarded about his prospects.

“People always look at this district and say, ‘a Democrat
can’t win this,'” he said.
(Editing by Jerry Norton)

US Democrat fights for political life in Bush country