Texas 17th District
Waco, about midway between Dallas to Austin, is deep in the heart of Texas. In the late 19th century, Waco was one of the largest cotton markets in the world, a rip-roaring town with legalized prostitution. In 1870, it opened a suspension bridge across the Brazos River, then the largest single-span suspension bridge in the United States, and it became the main depot along the Chisholm Trail, which cattlemen used to drive their longhorns north to Kansas shipyards. In 1885, a Waco pharmacist concocted the first Dr. Pepper. Not far from Waco is Baylor University, the oldest college in Texas and the largest Baptist university in the world. (Waco was the site of the tragedy of February 1993, when agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms moved in on cult leader David Koresh’s Branch Davidian compound. Koresh and many of his followers died in the ensuing fire.) In Waco’s McLennan County is the tiny town of Crawford, with its Rainey Creek that traverses former President George W. Bush’s 1,583-acre Prairie Chapel Ranch.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 17th Congressional District of Texas includes all of nine counties and parts of three more but is centered on Waco, which has 30% of the district’s population. To the north, are fast-growing Johnson, Hood and Somervell counties. This once-rural area is now part of exurban Forth Worth. The other population center in the district is Brazos County, whose largest city, College Station, is home to Texas A&M University. The school’s agricultural and military tradition sets it apart from the University of Texas. It has a more conservative atmosphere, is the site of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates was its president until he left for Washington in December 2006. Even in the recession, the university-fueled growth in College Station kept the local economy strong. The political tradition in central Texas for more than a century was heavily Democratic. This area voted for Democrat Hubert Humphrey in 1968, while most of the rural South went for Dixiecrat George Wallace and Republican Richard Nixon. As recently as 1990, it voted Democratic for governor, supporting Waco native Ann Richards. But the district has followed most of Texas and become Republican. George W. Bush carried the area when running for governor in 1994 and 1998, and the district voted 68% for him for president in 2000 and 70% in 2004. It voted 67.1% for GOP presidential nominee John McCain in 2008, his second-strongest district represented in Congress by a Democrat. (The first was Mississippi’s 4th District.)