A Waco resident, Edwards was born in Corpus Christi. He graduated magna cum laude from Texas A&M University in 1974, earning a bachelor's degree in economics. One of his professors was future U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator Phil Gramm. Upon graduation, he received the Earl Rudder Award, which is given to two outstanding seniors. Edwards was the Chairman of the 18th MSC Student Conference on National Affairs Conference, where he helped to bring Vice President Walter Mondale and businessman Ross Perot to campus.
After graduation, Edwards worked as an aide to Congressman Olin E. Teague for three years. When Teague announced his retirement in 1978, Edwards ran in the Democratic primary to succeed him. He lost by only 115 votes to his former professor, Phil Gramm, who switched to Republican affiliation in 1983.
In 1981, Edwards earned his MBA from Harvard Business School. He then went to work for the Trammell Crow Company as a commercial real estate agent. Later, Edwards purchased several rural radio stations in South Texas.
Edwards was elected to the Texas Senate in 1983, and served until 1990, representing District 9. In the Texas Senate, Edwards was a member of the Senate Education Committee which oversaw class size reduction in public schools. He was named by Texas Monthly as one of the "Ten Outstanding Legislators" during his tenure.Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development
Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government
Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (Chairman)
Committee on the Budget
Edwards is a moderate Democrat according to a nonpartisan organization GovTrack. He was also a leader in the House of Representatives.
However, he has stated his opposition to caps on medical malpractice lawsuits. He voted for the Iraq Resolution.
Edwards opposed the 2001 federal tax cuts and voted against eliminating the marriage penalty and estate tax. He voted for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
He traditionally votes against same-sex marriage. He has voted in favor of Constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage, as well as to define marriage one-man-one-woman, and holds a 25% rating from the Human Rights Campaign. Edwards voted against ending preferential treatment by race in college admissions and received an 83% rating from the NAACP in 2006. Edwards has received an "A" by the National Rifle Association.
In 2008, Edwards successfully introduced legislation to earmark $150 million toward a cure for neuroblastoma, a pediatric cancer. In July 2008, the measure was signed into law by U.S. President George W. Bush. Edwards was inspired in the endeavor by the illness and subsequent death of Erin Channing Buenger (1997-2009) of Bryan, daughter of one of his constituents, Walter L. Buenger, head of the history department at Texas A&M University.
Edwards was elected to the U.S. House in 1990 with 54 percent of the vote in what was then the 11th District, defeating Republican Hugh Shine. He was re-elected in 1992 with 67 percent of the vote, defeating Republican James Broyles. He defeated Broyles again in 1994 with 59 percent of the vote.
During the 1990s, the 11th District trended more and more Republican. Edwards was able to hold onto his seat, though with shrinking margins. In 1996, he was re-elected with 57 percent of the vote against Republican Jay Mathis. He won in 1998 without any Republican opponent. In 2000 he won with 55 percent of the vote over Ramsey Farley; in 2002, he beat Farley again, this time with 52 percent of the vote. In 2000, he became President Bush's congressman; the district includes Prairie Chapel Ranch just outside Crawford, which was Bush's legal residence during his presidential term.
As part of the 2003 Texas redistricting, Edwards' district was renumbered as the 17th District and radically altered. The ethnically diverse cities of Temple and Killeen were removed. The Army post of Fort Hood was also removed. In their place, his district absorbed College Station, home to Texas A&M and a long-standing bastion of conservatism. It also absorbed several heavily Republican areas west of Fort Worth. While Edwards' old district had been trending Republican for some time, the new district was, on paper, one of the most Republican districts in the country. Edwards defeated conservative State Representative Arlene Wohlgemuth in November 2004 by 9,260 votes, or approximately a 3.8% margin. Proving just how Republican this district was, Bush carried the 17th with a staggering 70 percent of the vote—the most of any Democratic-held district, and Bush's 17th-best district in the entire country. Edwards was one of two Democrats to represent a significant portion of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, along with Eddie Bernice Johnson. In much of this district, Edwards was the only elected Democrat above the county level. It was generally understood that the district would be taken over by a Republican once Edwards retired.
In 2006, Edwards ran for reelection against Republican Van Taylor, a former Marine Corps reservist and Iraq War veteran, and was re-elected with 58% of the vote to Taylor's 40%.
On February 18, 2008, Edwards officially endorsed Barack Obama in the Texas March 4 Democratic primary. In late June 2008, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi publicly suggested that Edwards would be a great choice as Obama's vice-presidential running mate. Edwards stated that he would accept such an offer from Obama. On August 22, the Associated Press reported that Edwards was on Obama's short-list as a potential running-mate.
In November 2008, Edwards was reelected by defeating Republican Rob Curnock, a Waco video business owner, with 53 percent of the vote. John McCain carried the 17th with 67 percent of the vote.
Edwards was challenged by Republican nominee Bill Flores, a retired Bryan oil and gas executive.
Edwards was endorsed by the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Nate Silver in the FiveThirtyEight.com New York Times blog predicted that there was a 4.7% chance that Edwards would defeat Flores. Real Clear Politics rated this race "Likely Republican".
On November 2, 2010, Flores' margin of victory over Edwards was 62-37 percent. This was the largest margin of defeat for a Democratic incumbent in the 2010 cycle. Edwards' term ended on January 3, 2011.
Edwards is married to Lea Ann Wood from Paducah, Kentucky. They have two sons, J.T. and Garrison.