MCGREGOR, Texas - Dozens of Democrats who have bucked their party on some elements of President Barack Obama's agenda — the stimulus package, health care overhaul or a climate change bill — still find themselves facing a tough battle in November elections amid an anti-incumbent mood.
Directly in the opposition party's crosshairs are roughly four dozen Democrats in districts that Republican presidential candidate John McCain won in 2008. That's one part of any Republican calculation to reclaiming the House of Representatives.
Among the imperiled Democrats is Rep. Chet Edwards, who represents a district deep in the heart of Republican territory. His lengthy tenure — he was elected in 1990 — and his work as chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on military construction and veterans affairs has translated into federal money for his district. But in a year of voter discontent with soaring deficits, the effort is more of a liability than a strength.
As the campaign becomes increasingly toxic for Democrats, none of it may matter.
Some of the most senior Democrats in conservative districts are facing what could be their most difficult races: Missouri's 17-term Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and South Carolina's 14-term Rep. John Spratt, chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Even Democrats who, like Edwards, voted against the health care and climate change bills are locked in tough races because they are being linked to Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Georgia Rep. Jim Marshall and South Dakota Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin join Edwards on the list.
"Jim Marshall's days are numbered because of his continued support of Nancy Pelosi and her agenda of backroom deals, hocus-pocus economics and massive government spending," Marshall's opponent, former Georgia legislator Austin Scott, wrote on his website.
Edwards, like other vulnerable Democrats, has distanced himself from Obama and Pelosi on several votes, including repeal of the "don't ask/don't tell" policy on gays in the military.
Just two years after Edwards was on Obama's short list of vice-presidential candidates, he did not appear with the president or Pelosi during their recent, separate fundraisers in Texas. Instead, Edwards campaigned with former George W. Bush administration Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi and three retired Army generals.
Edwards' closest race was in 2004, when he was the only Texas Democrat in a competitive race to keep his seat after the Republican-led redrawing of the state's congressional districts — winning with just 51 per cent.
This year Edwards faces oil and gas executive Bill Flores, who said he is confident he can win his first run for public office with support from Republicans and ultraconservative tea party activists.
"Americans are reawakened because the Democratic takeover caused them to pay attention, and the execution of the Obama-Pelosi agenda has really frightened Americans," Flores said.
Flores, like other Republicans trying to unseat Democrats in conservative districts nationwide, is portraying his opponent as a Washington insider who fully backs the "failing liberal agenda" of Obama and Pelosi. Edwards says Flores is harping on Democrats instead of explaining his comments that suggest a lack of experience and knowledge of the issues.
Associated Press writer Henry C. Jackson in Washington contributed to this report.