Election 2008 is not over yet — two races for Congress take place in Louisiana Saturday. One of them is in New Orleans.
In an ordinary year, you would pay little attention to a candidate like Anh “Joseph” Cao. Not that he’s a bad candidate. But as wonderful as his immigrant success story may be, he is a Vietnamese man running as a Republican for Congress in New Orleans. The seat he seeks is two-thirds Democratic and 64 percent black, and it has not had a Republican congressman since 1891.
But Cao, who was born in Saigon, should have a shot in Saturday’s general election, Republicans argue — for three reasons. First, his opponent, Rep. William Jefferson (D.), was indicted in 2005 after the FBI opened his freezer and found $90,000 in cash — bribe money that had been given him by an FBI informant. As court proceedings have been bogged down in pre-trial maneuvering, Jefferson’s disapproval rating has risen to 60 percent (96 percent among the district’s white voters), and his supply of campaign funds has dried up. Jefferson raised only $220,000 this year.Second, because the initial primary vote was delayed by Hurricane Gustav, a primary runoff was held on November 4 and the general election is tomorrow. That means that tomorrow Cao gets to face Jefferson on a ballot that does not include Barack Obama’s name. Even with Obama on the ballot, Jefferson won the Democratic primary runoff on November 4 with only 57 percent of the vote. Third, Saturday’s election will have minuscule turnout. In the last congressional runoff in this district, in 2006, only 62,000 voters participated. Only 1,100 early voters participated in this election. Jefferson-haters will be far more motivated to show up than Jefferson-backers. The NRCC has dumped a late $14,000 into the district for organizing, and a recent Republican-party poll — which should be viewed with great skepticism — shows Cao at 50 percent and carrying a double-digit lead over Jefferson. Cao, a conservative attorney who is pro-life and favors low taxes and gun rights, has worked hard to make a non-ideological case for himself in this week’s election by promising to restore integrity to the office Jefferson has sullied. He has been endorsed by the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Cao spoke to National Review Online Thursday as he was trying to find a street address. He was accosted by a random woman on the street: “We hope you win! Are you lost?”
NRO:Do you think that William Jefferson has been a good representative for your district?
CAO: Obviously not. He’s been stripped of all his committee assignments. He’s been a very poor representative. For the last three and a half years, nothing has been done by him. He has put through exactly one bill in the last three and a half years, and it was a bill to change the name of a post office. If you’re talking about effective representation — well, no. There has effectively been no representation of this district at all for three and a half years now.
NRO: You lost your home in Katrina. What was that like? How do you come back from something like that?
CAO:It was very difficult. We had eight feet of water in the house. It took us a year and a half to rebuild, so we had to go rent for a while. And then we got three more feet of water this year from Gustav. So we’re in the process of rebuilding our house again. That’s life down here in New Orleans. It’s quite obvious that we haven’t made enough progress in rebuilding the city here — the process has really been lacking. But I do have some idea of what it’s like to go through all of this rebuilding. It’s very difficult.
NRO: What will you do differently from Jefferson, aside from holding committee assignments and not taking bribes?
CAO: I would be more present to the people here. I would provide better constituent services and be more accountable to the people. I’d be working to remain active and engaged in the community among the people I’ll be representing. He has not done any of that.