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Edwards declares victory

Nov. 3, 2004

By JESSICA BROWN, reporter

A congressional race that has garnered national attention because of its competitiveness was decided after midnight today.

The gap between Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, and State Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson began to widen with over three-quarters of the precincts reporting.

With 87 percent of precincts counted, Edwards led with 52 percent, 107,470 votes, and Wohlgemuth had 97,646 votes in the newly formed District 17.

Robert Shaw | Lariat staff
Incumbent Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, defeats Arlene Wohlgemuth, R- Burleson, for congressional seat.
Edwards gave his victory speech just after 1 a.m. "We won this election and it's your victory," he told the last holdouts of among more than 500 supporters. The win places him in the congressional seat for an eighth term where he can continue to represent Central Texas, including Bush's home near Crawford.

"This is going to come down to Johnson County versus McLennan County -- her home area versus mine," Edwards said earlier in the evening.

With the closeness of the race, Wohlgemuth said she believes voters can make their decisions by looking at the voting records of the two candidates.

"I was very pleased with our campaign. We've had an excellent plan. We've executed our plan and stayed on method, which from the beginning would contrast our voting record," Wohlgemuth said.

Leading up to Election Day, the race remained tight. A week prior to the election, a Wilson Research Strategies poll showed Wohlgemuth leading Edwards by 3 percent. But, the lead fell within the margin of error, 5.7 percent. Edwards then received the endorsement from former Baylor president, Dr. Herbert H. Reynolds, in a television advertisement.

Monday night, Wohlgemuth received the official endorsement from President George W. Bush as he addressed Texans at Southern Methodist University, prior to returning home to Crawford to vote. Wohlgemuth said she will fight alongside Bush in Washington, something she says Edwards hasn't done.

"We talked a lot about the principles on which I am running; limited government, individual liberties, free enterprise and traditional family values," Wohlgemuth said. "The tax issue has been very key to this. My opponent voted against Bush in his tax cut. I will go to Washington to make permanent those tax cuts. We've had over 11,000 jobs created from those tax cuts."

Edwards served seven terms as the representative for District 11. After the district layout was revised by congressional mapmakers, Waco fell into the new District 17, which added Texas A&M University and eliminated Fort Hood. The congressional district stretches from Johnson County through McLennan County to a southern boundary in Brazos County.

Edwards has attempted to appeal to voters by stressing his moderate views.

Both Republicans and Democrats can relate according to Dr. Karla Leeper, acting chair and associate professor of communication studies.

"Edwards is able to get support from both sides and he seems to be able to cut across party lines. He's been very effective in acquiring resources. I think a lot of the republicans for Edwards came out late," Leeper said. "I think Chet has a good chance unless something really unusual happens. A major advantage of Edwards getting elected is having a congressman that has seniority."

Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, is hopeful the District 17 race will end in favor of Edwards.

"I understand it looks promising at the moment, and I do believe that if Chet Edwards is re-elected the voters have made a wise choice," Dunnam said. "He's done a great job. He's been my congressman and/or senator for most of my adult life. He's done an outstanding job, and I think he'll continue to do that."

Both candidates said they used Tuesday evening as a opportunity for celebration and a chance to thank volunteers for their efforts. At Slo-Pokes BBQ, 215 S. 2nd St., about 400 Wohlgemuth supporters gathered in a subtle party atmosphere to watch the numbers roll in Fox News on the big screens.

"The attitude here is excited, optimistic, energetic. I think people here have been working hard and you're seeing the fruits of the labor," Josh Petens, Director of Communications for the Young Conservatives of Texas, 3rd year Baylor Law student from Arlington, said.

In the Edwards campaign, about 320 supporters came together to join Edwards and his family for the results at the Red Men Museum, 4521 Speight Ave.

"Things are going great, its great to see so many wonderful supporters out here. The volunteers have worked endless hours and tonight is a celebration for everybody, for all they've done," said Le Ann Edwards.

Wes Spencer and Matt Woolley contributed to this article.