By Cain Burdeau
Sunday, December 7, 2008
NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 6 -- A little-known Republican ousted nine-term Rep. William J. Jefferson (D) on Saturday, as New Orleans area voters elected the first Vietnamese American to Congress.
Anh "Joseph" Cao received hefty support in his campaign from the national Republican Party, which launched a barrage of advertising that tried to portray Jefferson, indicted in an alleged international bribery scheme, as corrupt.
Jefferson has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, laundering money and misusing his congressional office, but Republicans argued that the scandal had cost Jefferson his clout in Congress.
Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District has been loyal to Jefferson, who has represented the district since 1991, when he became the state's first black congressman since Reconstruction. Voters even returned him to Washington in 2006 after federal agents said they found $90,000 in alleged bribe money hidden in his freezer. The district also is heavily Democratic and African American.
Nevertheless, Cao outpolled Jefferson in a race that saw light turnout. With all precincts reporting, Cao defeated Jefferson, 49.5 to 47 percent.
Cao, 41, immigrated to the United States at age 8 with his mother and four siblings when Saigon fell to the Communists. Cao grew up in Houston and graduated from Baylor, Fordham and Loyola universities. He is a lawyer with the Falls Church-based nonprofit Boat People SOS.
In an election in western Louisiana to replace Rep. Jim McCrery, a Republican who is retiring after 10 terms, Republican John Fleming, a doctor, squeaked past Democrat Paul Carmouche, a district attorney. Only a few hundred votes separated the two.
Their race was one that national Democrats viewed as a possible pickup, regarding the Jefferson seat as safe. So President-elect Barack Obama recorded a radio ad for Carmouche, while Vice President Cheney helped Fleming with fundraising.
Cao's victory trimmed the Democrats' advantage in the next House to 79 votes, 256 to 177.
The congressional elections were both postponed by Hurricane Gustav, which struck the state days ahead of scheduled primary elections.