Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Boiler Room Crew Racks Up Fresh Numbers In Edwards Campaign

In the back of the store front on Waco's battered old Auto Row, Franklin Ave., the boiler room crew is made up of young, sleek men and women bearing all the ear marks of the new millenium.

Back packs, laptops, cells, Blackberries, low rise jeans, flip flops, and pointy-toe designer heels – this crack unit of front line troopers displays all the characteristics of humanity in its peak period of stamina, concentration, and the ability to shake it off, relax and get back in the struggle in graceful and momentary form.

Their reactions are honed to perfection and in their cold calls, they overcome voters' objections with the practiced ease of seasoned warriors.

Chet Edwards is fighting for his political life, seeking an eleventh term in what the conservative congressional pollster Charlie Cook calls the nation's second-most conservative congressional district, a 12-county exercise in gerrymandering that resembles the shape of the peninsula of Malaysia and snakes along through 12 counties straddling the valley of the Brazos bottom lands where the gumbo dirt is as black as ink and the cotton looks like a nubby carpet of fresh popcorn when the harvest is due.

Republican voters number in the 60th percentile, yet they have returned this conservative Southern Democrat to Capitol Hill in each of 10 consecutive terms while increasingly GOP-dominated Texas Legislatures have pushed, pinched, cut up and carved huge swaths ouf the 17th district like what one seasoned State Senator called "a boarding house pie." Still, the McLennan County stronghold, Waco and surrounding communities, has survived unscathed.

As one listens to the battle of wits and wills surge back and forth over the tops of their heads, it becomes apparent that these young people are patiently teaching the finer points of federal civics to people who are frightened out of their ever-loving minds that they could lose it all – their savings, their jobs, their homes and their families in the next couple of election cycles if they aren't careful how they choose on November 2.

Repeatedly, you hear the question, “You mean you would vote against Chet because of something President Obama has done?”

Another rejoinder is, “Chet voted against health care reform.”

Then there are the bailouts. The banks. The insurance companies. The automakers.

Hey, look, Chet didn't vote to bail out those companies, those banks, no. He voted to keep some money in circulation.

Why? Because he didn't have much choice.

“President Obama isn't on the ballot.”

“This isn't a referendum on health care.”

“No, sir, that's a completely different part of the U.S. Constitution. That Article deals with the Executive Branch, not the Congress...”

"But, Mrs. Pelosi is not on the ballot - at least in this district."

Occasionally, a voter becomes irate and shouts his discontent. The volunteers take a break, go the fridge for a Coke, caucus in gales of giggles and duck out for a smoke break – shake it off.

As the evening wears on, a special crew begins to call a special list of hard core supporters to make sure they know about a campaign headquarters rally that will take place on Wednesday after quitting time – 6 p.m. CNN will be there, yes.

It looks like news will be made. It's in the air. There can be no mistake. It's one of the most heavily watched Congressional races in the nation.

Mr. Edwards is the chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, Military Construction and Quality of Military Life. He is a member of the Water Resources Committee, a former staffer on the staff of U.S. Representative Olin E. “Tiger” Teague, a Texas State Representative and the chair of the Natural Resources Committee of the Texas Senate.

Water is his middle name. In this district, where in many towns the rest home is the largest employer, water is the key to the economic future. He has been instrumental in Congressional relations with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers his entire political career. He's a hometown boy on his local turf. His father-in-law was Pastor of Waco's First Baptist, the traditional church of choice for the Presidents of the nation's largest religious institution of higher learning, Baylor University.

Another boiler maker is heard to say, “You would have to amend the Constitution to change that, sir. Article One stipulates that the members of the House of Representatives shall make their rules and seniority is one of the most important rules of all.”

Mr. Flores has decried the seniority system, vowing to limit his service to only a few terms and making the bombastic observation in the last fortnight that the Constitution does not require that the Speaker be a member of the chamber.

It's a key selling point when dealing with voter objections to a Congress they see as unresponsive and uncaring. It's the way things are done. Understand that going in.

Another caucus is phoning organizers in outlying counties to query them about dinners, speakers, questions from the press – the works.

Is Bill Flores going to be there? The Republican opponent hasn't said anything – one way or the other. Has he been invited? Yes.

The numbers are exacting; the tally sheets are completed and the backup calls are made.

That's when Alex Youn strolls through the room and introduces himself. He is the campaign manager. A friendly face peers out from behind black horn-rimmed spectacles. The Legendary asks about a 19-point lead Mr. Flores has claimed two weeks ago in an On Message poll taken by Washington insider Wes Anderson, an organization that is mapping the numbers for Republican Young Guns candidates who are targeting certain heavily Republican districts that are represented by Democratic incumbents with a lot of seniority.

“It's not an honest poll,” he says with a shrug. In what way? “Flores commissioned the poll,” he says, smiling. The numbers were gleaned during an intense broadcast advertising blitz in the district's three expensive markets, the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex, Waco and Bryan-College Station.

The On Message organization serves the Republican Congressional Committee exclusively.

One feels that Mr. Youn's numbers are as fresh as the daily tallies the troops rack up in their calls. He smiles, shakes hands all around, and goes back to his office to check the afternoon tallies of seniors after the boiler room shuts down calling them at 5:30. After all, there is early and absentee voting to consider. Seniors sometimes forget. Hey, it's a census year.

Kid has it humming like a Seventh Avenue sewing machine. This is some serious schmatta in progress, over here.

Mr. Youn is playing it close to the vest, following standard operating procedure. After all, it's not Chet Edwards' first rodeo.

Watch this one and hang on to your hat. It's going to be a scorching squeaker – way too close to call. A real pitcher's duel under autumn skies.

The Legendary is in it until the last vote is counted and the canvass is official. Best show in town. A bellwether indicator. Be there.

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