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Edwards, Wohlgemuth Vie for Texas Congressional District 17 Seat

By Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 Reporter

Dallas, TX –

Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter: Arlene Wohlgemuth, a 10-year veteran of the State House of Representatives, helped redraw the lines for the 17th Texas Congressional district. 64% Republican, it includes Waco, parts of Fort Worth, and communities in Hood, Johnson, McClennan and Brazos counties, among others. At this outdoor debate in Johnson County last month, Wohlgemuth outlined her priorities as a pro-Bush Republican.

Arlene Wohlgemuth, Republican Candidate, Texas Congressional District 17: I have campaigned as a conservative, pro-business, pro-family candidate. The principles upon which I'm running are limited government, individual liberties, free enterprise and traditional family values, and they're reflected in my voting record. Last session, I helped balance the budget without a tax increases despite a $10 billion shortfall.

Zeeble: But she did so, says Chet Edwards, on the backs of Texas children. Early on, the seven-term Democrat targeted his opponent's record in re-structuring the state's Health and Human Services Commission, which includes the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Chet Edwards, Democratic Incumbent, Texas Congressional District 17: I disagree with Mrs. Wohlgemuth's having authored the bill that cut more than 100,000 children in Texas off insurance last year alone. That bill also caused Texas taxpayers $500 million in lost federal matching funds. I want to work with President Bush to push CHIP, not cut it, as Mrs. Wohlgemuth has.

Zeeble: Edwards, who calls himself a conservative, says Wohlgemuth's brand of anti-family conservatism is too extreme. Meanwhile, Wohlgemuth calls Edwards a liberal tax-and-spend Democrat out of touch with the district. But Washington, D.C.-based editor Amy Walter, who watches the U.S. House for the non-partisan Cook Political Report, says voters may not be buying it.

Amy Walter, House editor, Cook Political Report: People there know him; they like him. The Republicans are going to vote for George Bush, but they have a have a relationship with Chet Edwards, and that's not going to change, even in a presidential election year.

Zeeble: Walter's assessment is based in part on a nearly month-old poll that showed Edwards ahead by some 10 points. That was before a blizzard of attack ads from both camps, many coming from out of state.

Pro-Wohlgemuth ad: Why does President Bush support Arlene Wohlgemuth and not Democrat Chet Edwards? Arlene Wohlgemuth voted with Governor Bush on the No Child Left Behind initiative. Edwards took thousands from trial lawyers and voted against the President's effort to protect teachers from lawsuits.

Pro-Edwards ad: Think of brave young men and women putting their lives on the line. And think of what we owe them. Yet Arlene Wohlgemuth stated said she would slash the budget President Bush wanted for veterans by over a billion dollars. Waco's VA hospital could be closed. Over 100,000 veterans would be cut off.

Zeeble: A fact check by a central Texas TV station called elements of both spots misleading. It's unclear how influential these ads have been. Outside Cleburne's court house the other day, folks knew of the presidential campaigns, but most knew nothing of this race. Linda Irish and Norman Maples did, though.

Linda Irish, District 17 resident: Wohlgemuth. She's been good to us so far.

Norman Maples, District 17 resident: Chet is a man who cares about people. He cares about vets, a strong defense. He's a good man.

Zeeble: The candidates have each raised more than $2 million to run their campaigns. Going into the final weekend, residents of the 17th district can expect yet more informational and attack ads on TV and in the mail, to sway their votes. For KERA 90.1, I'm Bill Zeeble.

Email Bill Zeeble about this story.