“The most Republican Congressional district in US”
– Roll Call Magazine
The year is 2004. Chet Edwards is targeted, along with four other Texas Democratic incumbents, by Tom DeLay and the Republican Party for extinction. First, DeLay manipulates a re-districting plan in the Texas Legislature, that gerrymandered what was already a marginal and difficult district, into a solid Republican district, with a Democratic Performance of only 37%. (After the election, Roll Call Magazine would rate this district as the most Republican Congressional district in the entire nation.)
The Texas district is also home to George W. and Laura Bush’s ranch – meaning that Chet Edwards represents the Bushes in Congress, and the President and First Lady vote in Chet Edwards’s district. The President is at the top of the ticket in this election, going against liberal Senator Kerry from Massachusetts.
The district is also hand-tailored for a long-time Republican State Representative, Arlene Wohlgemuth, by adding to the district almost all of her own heavily Republican legislative district in the suburbs of Dallas.
Finally, the Republican National Congressional Committee poured over five million dollars into negative independent expenditure television attack ads on gay marriage, abortion, and voting against tax cuts, into the district, including the Dallas media market, where Edwards’ campaign could not afford to buy television.
Arlene Wohlgemuth was confident that she could win. She campaigned against Chet Edwards as a “Tax and Spend Liberal Pro-Abortion Democrat who did not represent the district’s values. Her message over and over again was that it was time to make sure that the President’s own Representative in Congress worked for the President and not against him.
The ad had a devastating effect on Arlene Wohlgemuth’s campaign. Tracking polling showed an immediate drop in her support, at just the right time to put her back on her heels before she could build any acceleration and momentum that would have been hard to stop, given the Republican landslide that was staring us in the face.
In the end, we also needed great ads by Chet Edwards to cement his personal and positive values-based relationship with the voters – using a message that Chet Edwards supported the President when Chet felt he was right for the nation and for the district, but that Chet would stand up to any President if that were necessary to do what was right for the nation and the district.
And finally, under a virtual nuclear attack by Republican negative television at the end, we countered with another values-based television ad, that featured the retired President of the local Baptist university, Baylor – to say that Arlene Wohlgemuth should be ashamed of herself for attacking Chet Edwards on abortion and gay marriage.
On election day, Chet Edwards won.
All four of the other Texas Democratic incumbents, targeted by Tom DeLay, went down to defeat by huge margins.
President Bush won the district by the largest margin of any Congressional district in the entire nation: 69% to 30%.
The most important fact: a total of over 51,000 voters in the district voted for George W. Bush for President and for Chet Edwards for Congress – 51,000 switch voters in a single Congressional district.