Congressman Chet Edwards knows he’s a target.

    His District 17, which stretches from Bryan to the southern Tarrant County suburbs, is one of the most conservative districts nationwide held by a Democrat. It even includes Crawford, the home of George W. Bush’s ranch, and former President George H.W. Bush’s library in College Station.

    And then there’s the “i” word – incumbent.

    “This will be a challenging year for incumbents, Democrats and Republicans alike,” Edwards said in a recent interview after meeting with a group of supporters in Glen Rose. “We don’t take any votes for granted.”

    But getting those votes this year means Edwards will have to work harder. He faces an organized and motivated Republican Party and its aggressive “Tea Party” faction and a well-heeled opponent, retired oilman Bill Flores. The Bryan Republican has been plastering the district with billboards that paint Edwards as a Democrat out-of-step with his district's conservative leanings.

    On the other hand, Edwards also needs to appeal to mainstream Democrats, some of whom he upset with his vote against the new health care law pushed by President Barack Obama. 

    Edwards recently sent out an expensive mailing to constituents explaining why he voted “no” on the health care bill. He said that it came down to his concerns about the bill’s level of new spending and the more than 30,000 letters, e-mails and calls his office received on the issue.

    “Listening to the thousands of constituents from all walks of life across our district on the issue of health care reform over the past year, people have told me that they generally like the quality of their present health care,” he wrote. They “don’t want big government or big insurance companies to stand between them and their doctors.

“They also have serious concerns about the affordability of health care due to fast-rising health care costs,” he added.

    Congress should have passed a less expensive, bipartisan bill that could have united, rather than divided, the nation, he said.

    He has made the proposed expansion of the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant a campaign issue, seizing on a comment Flores made at a Tea Party event earlier this year in Waco. First Flores denied making the statement. When Edwards’ campaign produced the audio – which is now posted on the Edwards Web site – Flores’ campaign manager had to backtrack on Flores’ remarks.

    “Comanche Peak and its future is highly important to Somervell, Johnson and Hood counties, and to the state,” Edwards said. “I can’t think of any issue more important to the district and economy than the future of Comanche Peak.”

    “This is by far among the largest single economic development projects for new jobs. I think it will be important throughout our district.”

    Flores countered that Edwards was making false charges (see his letter to the editor on today's Opinion page).

    “It wasn’t a false attack,” Edwards said. “It was a true response to his statement at the Waco Tea Party.”

    As to Flores’ second response that circumstances had changed and that Democrats had not passed a comprehensive energy bill, Edwards said that Congress did pass an energy bill in 2005.

    “There are no circumstances that have changed,” Edwards said.

    “His statement that he would support nuclear loan guarantees until Congress passed a comprehensive energy bill would stop Comanche Peak just as badly as his statement two-and-a-half months ago,” Edwards said.

    Because Texas is a deregulated market for electric power, passing the bill would have “nothing to do” with the expansion anyway, Edwards added.

    “We’re talking about a $15 billion loss,” he added. “The reason we need to be able to make loan guarantees is because Texas is a deregulated energy market. It doesn’t have anything to do with any bill being passed or not passed in Washington, D.C.”

    Edwards said he's been trying to add $8 billion to $9 billion to nuclear loan guarantees, which should provide the funding to move Comanche Peak forward to the top of the list.

    “We are trying to put that in the bill that funds the Afghan war,” Edwards added. “I believe we have a good chance of getting that in there.”

Next week: Bill Flores explains his views on the issues.