RACE OF THE DAY: Texas-17

In just two years, Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) has gone from rumored vice president to just one of many centrist Democrats fighting for their political lives. 

Edwards is staring down the toughest challenge he has faced in years from Republican businessman Bill Flores, and Republicans are claiming internal polling has the challenger up double digits over Edwards. 

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The tight race has Edwards emphasizing his conservative roots and his willingness to stand up to his party's leadership in Washington. 

In a recent campaign ad, Edwards touts his vote against the signature legislative achievement of President Obama, who considered putting him on the Democratic ticket in 2008. 

"When President Obama and Nancy Pelosi pressured Chet Edwards, Chet stood up to them and voted no against their trillion-dollar healthcare bill," the ad's narrator says. 

Edwards has been in the sights of the national GOP for years given that his district is one of the most solidly Republican in the country currently represented by a Democrat; the Crawford ranch of former President George W. Bush is in Edwards's district. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won close to 70 percent of the vote in the district in 2008. 

The 17th district is situated less than 50 miles from Dallas and just south of Fort Worth. The terrain stretches from the Fort Worth suburbs down to Waco and reaches close to Houston.  

Edwards was in Republican crosshairs in both 2006 and 2008, but his GOP challengers simply weren't strong enough to give the Democrat a real run. This year, national Republicans think they have finally found their man in Flores, and the national environment has turned heavily in their favor.

Another reason Republicans are convinced Edwards can be beaten in 2010 — the congressman won reelection by a surprisingly slim margin two years ago, beating back a GOP challenge with just 53 percent of the vote in a race that wasn't expected to be that close ahead of Election Day. 

Flores has focused on Edwards's votes in favor of both the stimulus and financial bailout bills, and the National Republican Congressional Committee has already taken aim at the Democrat in an independent-expenditure ad.  

Veterans are a key constituency in the 17th district, and veterans' issues are a top focus for both candidates. The two have also battled over government spending and earmarks. Both candidates have criticized the congressional earmarks process, but Flores wants a ban on the practice, while Edwards has pointed to earmarked dollars he says have created jobs in the district.  

The third-quarter fundraising numbers for both candidates should be revealing. Edwards just edged his challenger in fundraising for the second quarter and ended it with a sizable cash-on-hand edge. At the end of June, Edwards was sitting on $2.1 million to just $415,000 for Flores.   

Despite the atmosphere in 2010, Edwards can't be underestimated. Democrats point out there's a reason the congressman has been able to keep his seat in this Republican district for so long and say if anyone can survive a big GOP wave, it's Edwards. 

Similar to the 17th district in Illinois, where Rep. Phil Hare (D) finds himself in an unexpectedly tough race, this district will be another measure of just how big GOP gains will be this fall. If the wave is big enough to take out a Democratic incumbent like Edwards, strategists say, that likely means the GOP will be in the majority come January. 

-Updated at 4:54 p.m. This article originally reported that Flores outraised Edwards in the second quarter.