As Democrats nationwide fell victim to the anti-incumbent, anti-party-in-power sentiment sweeping the nation, Texas' U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards — the one Democrat who for years won re-election in a clearly Republican district — could no longer be the exception to the rule.
Republican retired oil and gas executive Bill Flores of Bryan took the lead in the battle for the 17th Congressional District early in the evening and appeared to not let go. It was unclear whether other Texas Democrats who lagged in re-election bids, such as Ciro Rodriguez of San Antonio and Solomon Ortiz of Corpus Christi, would also falter.
But Democratic U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas stayed in the lead late Tuesday, and all Tarrant County Republican House members — Joe Barton of Arlington, Kay Granger of Fort Worth, Kenny Marchant of Coppell and Michael Burgess of Lewisville — appeared to be on their way to handily winning another term in office.
"Clearly it's a great night for Republicans and not a great night for Democrats," said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University. "We've seen this in the weeks coming up to the election. It's clear there's a frustration, even an anger, with the way things are going in government right now.
"The miracle in the District 17 race is not so much that (Edwards) is losing this year," he said. "The miracle is that he held on three elections after redistricting."
With more than 79 percent of the results in, Flores continued to hold a lead with nearly 61 percent of the vote, to Edwards' 37 percent and Libertarian Richard B. Kelly's more than 1 percent, according to incomplete, unofficial election returns from the Texas secretary of state.
"I feel our efforts have paid off," Flores said by telephone shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday. "I'm a little overwhelmed at this point."
He said he had received a call from Edwards conceding the race and planned to start today on a transition plan to make sure everything is in place for when Flores is sworn into office Jan. 5.
Edwards, who has served in Congress for 20 years, asked his supporters to join together and support Flores.
"My hope and prayer for our great nation is that our elected officials find a way to move beyond the bitter partisanship that is so harmful to our democracy and our country's future," he said.
District 17, which stretches from College Station through Johnson and Hood counties, has been a target for Republicans since they redrew it to favor their party in 2003.
Edwards was the only Democrat targeted through redistricting that year who held on to his seat. But the GOP has targeted his seat every election since then, knowing that it is a Republican district.
The district was in even more demand this year, as Republicans thought it could help flip the overall power in the House. The National Republican Congressional Committee determined this year that the district was important and pumped countless dollars into Flores' race.
In the battle for control of the House, where every seat matters, Democrats lined up behind Edwards as well, contributing individually and through donations and commercials funded by the National Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
With just early voting reported, Johnson, the other area Democrat, held more than 75 percent of the vote to Republican Stephen Broden's nearly 22 percent and Libertarian J.B. Oswalt's more than 2 percent, according to unofficial, incomplete results.