The Campaign Spot

Could Independent Candidates Save Joseph Cao?

Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao, Republican from New Orleans, Louisiana, might be the luckiest man in Congress if all of this comes to pass:

In an exclusive, long-time Orleans Sewerage and Water Board member Tommie Vassel, a political rising star in Crescent City and former Council candidate, has revealed that he will likely be a candidate in November’s election for the U.S. House of Representative. And, he will run as an Independent.

Moreover, the immediate past President of the national Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Rev. Byron Clay of Kenner–a minister who extensive political connections amongst the Black Clergy–is being urged by many of the liturgical colleagues to run for Congress against Cao as well–as an Independent.

Should he stand, Clay would join Vassel and the likely Democratic candidate, State Representative Cedric Richmond, in pitting three prominent African-American challengers against the sitting 2nd District Republican Representative. Even in a highly Democratic, Black Majority Congressional seat like the New Orleans, South Kenner, and West Bank Jefferson district, two Independents dividing the vote with the Democratic contender might be enough to allow a Republican, elected in a political fluke, to win a second term . . . In the “First Past the Post” system adopted in Louisiana Congressional elections almost six years ago, the victor could easily win with just 35% of the vote — or less.

To refresh your memory, Cao won 50 percent of the vote to William Jefferson’s 47 percent in a low-turnout special-election runoff in December 2008. This is a district that is essentially the city of New Orleans, where Obama beat McCain, 75 percent to 23 percent. It is rated D+25, by far the most Democratic-leaning district in Congress represented by a Republican. Put another way, Cao barely beat a congressman who had been indicted.

But in a four-way race, the incumbent would seem to have a really healthy shot of finishing with the largest slice.

UPDATE: A few readers wonder about the lack of a rule for a runoff; here’s what has on the subject:

If only one party candidate files in a primary, that candidate is nominated and there is no primary.

Each party’s nominee along with independent candidates (qualified by petition) run in the November General Election where the candidate receiving the most votes is elected.

Beginning in 2011, Louisiana will return to their “open primary” system (reference: House Bill 292). There are no party primaries. The state holds its general election on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November. In this election, all candidates from all parties appear on the ballot. A runoff is held on the first Saturday in December (between the top two vote getters) if no one candidate receive 50% of the vote.

Like I said, Cao might be the luckiest man in Congress.


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