The Waco Tribune-Herald, my home-town newspaper, has called Chet Edwards "one of Texas' most resilient Democrats." Edwards was the only one of six targeted Democratic incumbents in Texas to survive the much celebrated Tom Delay-orchestrated redistricting of 2003. He held off his Republican challenger in the tight race that followed in 2004, while the district went for President Bush with 69 percent of the vote. In 2006, Edwards whipped the GOP candidate by 18 points.

FYI: Edwards represents Texas 17, which includes the President's ranch in Crawford. This is Bush country (even now); and Representative Edwards is literally the President's congressman. He is also my congressman and the first Democrat for whom I can remember voting. And, like many of my fellow Republicans in Central Texas, I have voted for him consistently over the years.

How has a Democrat succeeded consistently in an increasingly, overwhelmingly Republican district?

1. He has a good (and justly earned) reputation in the community for working hard to service constituents, and he has skillfully distanced himself from the mainstream of his party on the issues that alienate many Central Texans. Back during the last campaign, when a Democratic House looked likely, Congressman Edwards wouldn't even admit that he was going to vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker.

2. More importantly, Edwards has stayed on top of the tiger with conservative votes. Up until a few months ago, the President could hardly have asked for a more loyal congressman.

But that has changed. In January, he voted for the non-binding resolution "disapproving of the decision of the President announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq." And, recently, he cast his vote to support the Democratic timetable to withdraw American troops by August of 2008.

Change of heart? If so, it has been a swift one. He gave no indication that he would break with his history of voting in support of the President on the war during the last election. These two votes are not at all in keeping with how I understood his position last November.

Change of heart? If so, it has been a peculiar one. Representative Edwards has not issued a full-throated explanation. His March 23 public statement emphasized his vote for "full funding" for the troops, the added "flexibility for the Commander-in-Chief," and his support for the plan put forward by "former President Bush’s Secretary of State Jim Baker." His statement did not mention the current President Bush by name, and it criticized Speaker Pelosi and anti-war hero John Murtha.

From the statement his office released on March 23 (in full here):

In February, Edwards spoke out publicly and led the opposition to proposals put forward by Congressman John Murtha and Speaker Nancy Pelosi that would have limited the president’s constitutional role as Commander-in-Chief. As a result of Edwards’ efforts, a waiver was included in the bill to allow the president the flexibility to manage the war and troop rotations.

“I was one of the first to speak out publicly on proposals I thought would overly restrict the Commander-in-Chief’s ability to manage troop rotations. The bill now fully funds the president’s troop surge in Iraq while refocusing our mission there to fighting terrorists, training Iraqi security forces and increasing efforts to fight the resurgence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.”

This is confusing at best. Maybe even outright disingenuous.

What happened?

I doubt Congressman Edwards is jumping off this cliff willingly. I would like to know how much pressure the Speaker and Democratic Leadership exerted on these votes.

The Congressman's rhetoric (which obfuscates the meaning of his vote) leads me to believe that he sees himself on very shaky ground with the Texas 17 voters.

It is possible that he was ill-served by his big margin of victory in the last election. He won by nearly 20 points in the last election. I can imagine that he is hard-pressed to make the case with Speaker Pelosi that he must buck leadership out of self-preservation.

My guess is that the next election in this district will be much more partisan than the last few. Edwards will not be able to run away from mainstream Democrats next time, as he is currently towing the party line in a big way.

Legendary UT football coach, Darrell Royal, famously advised: "You've got to dance with who brung you." I regret that Congressman Edwards is changing partners at this crucial juncture.