- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 28, 2006

WACO, Texas — Texas Republicans spent much of this year thinking they had a good chance to defeat an eight-term Democrat in this central Texas congressional district.

Today, Republican Van Taylor’s campaign in the 17th District, though well-funded, seems bogged down. Several polls indicate that incumbent Chet Edwards, 54, will easily retain the seat he has held for 16 years.

The Republican Party promised to campaign heavily for Mr. Taylor when he won the primary in March. He was told he could expect money, rallies featuring party stalwarts and national press exposure.

For the Republicans, Mr. Taylor seemed like the perfect fit.

The 10-year Marine veteran who served in Iraq seemed likely to blend in perfectly with the pro-military constituency that permeates this area near Fort Hood.

Some local conservatives also saw an excellent opportunity to rid themselves of an embarrassing situation — a Democrat representing President Bush, whose Crawford ranch is in the district.

“It’s an embarrassment,” said M. A. Taylor, the McLennan County Republican chairman, who is not related to the candidate. “This area overwhelmingly supports the president and is overwhelmingly Republican, and yet we have a congressman who supposedly represents our interests. It is nothing short of personally humiliating.”

But something happened along the way that turned the odds against Mr. Taylor.

Mr. Edwards refused to attack Mr. Bush, unlike most Democrats across the country, and he has spoken about his efforts to protect the Waco VA hospital and to fight for the military.

He reminds voters that he is a member of the Appropriations Committee and is the top-ranking Democrat on its military quality of life and veterans affairs subcommittee.

“In a Congress where committee assignments really make a difference, the fact that I am the ranking member on the committee that funds the VA health care system has given me the experience and insight into the political process and the VA system itself,” Mr. Edwards said at a recent debate in College Station.

Meanwhile, Mr. Taylor tells voters he served two tours in Iraq as a captain with the 4th Marines, 3rd Recon Battalion, and comes from a long line of soldiers, dating back to the Civil War.

The race has not been cheap. According to Congressional Quarterly’s Political Money Line, Mr. Taylor has raised almost $2 million, while Mr. Edwards has raised more than $2.8 million, among the most of any Democrat running for Congress.

Though Mr. Edwards has used much of his campaign war chest to promote past service, Mr. Taylor has attacked the Democrat as a “career politician,” a man out of step with “family values” in the district.

Some of Mr. Taylor’s television ads have been called “fanciful” or less than fair. In fact, “some of his attacks on Edwards’ voting record are simply not true,” said Gary Halter, professor of political science at Texas A&M; University.

As the criticism of Mr. Taylor’s campaign increased, the excitement from Republican leaders in Washington has cooled.

The National Republican Congressional Committee canceled $1.5 million in television ads it had scheduled to run in the waning days of the campaign, but the Taylor campaign is still fighting.

“We’re prepared to win this race,” said Mike Spellings, a campaign spokesman. “We’re confident voters are responding to his message.”

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