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"Outlier" Congressional District Shapes Race Between Edwards and Flores

July 18, 2010

Listen to the audio | Interview with Ashley Cruseturner

KWBU spoke with political pundits, historians, experts, and party spokesman: all of them eager to talk about the District 17 congressional race, all of them echoing at least one thing: around the country, politicos are completely fascinated by the congressional district that we call home. They also watch Congressman Chet Edwards with a mixture of admiration and awe: no other Democrat in the country represents a more Republican district than he does.

David Wasserman is the House editor for the influential Cook Political Report, an organization whose handicaps and predictions of elections are well-regarded in political circles. Cook has ranked District 17 as the 19th most Republican district in the entire nation. Every four years, it votes overwhelmingly for the GOP presidential candidate. Yet every two years, it bucks that trend in the house. Not surprisingly, says Republican spokesman Brian Preston, the GOP is trying desperately to pick this seat up.

But over the years, the values of this district have proved to be hard to pin down along strict party lines. In fact, some see the district as a holdout from patterns that began far before anyone involved was born. Michael Barone is a conservative columnist and congressional historian, having edited the comprehensive Almanac of American Politics. He says this district is a holdout.

According to Barone, the district is an outlier in American politics, and while others have shifted with changing political values, this one has continued a trend that began a long, long time ago.

And this district has become more conservative. But there seems to be a distinction that voters have made over the decades in every incarnation of this district, formerly District 11 until redistricting. Ashley Cruseturner, professor of history at McLennan Community College, has long observed and studied area politics. He says voters have clearly differentiated between Texas Democrats, and their more liberal counterparts elsewhere.

We'll continue to examine the pieces of the district puzzle throughout the week, looking next at more recent history following the 2004 re-districting. You can find our stories and the complete conversation with Ashley Cruseturner online at kwbu.org. For KWBU news, I'm Derek Smith.

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