NEW ORLEANS — At a Saturday morning community health fair in a Vietnamese enclave in the predominantly black eastern wing of this city, Cassidy wasn't exactly in politically friendly territory.
But he was quickly met by a familiar face ready to show him around. Greeting Cassidy behind a mobile pregnancy care bus was former Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao, a fellow Republican who entered the House with Cassidy after the 2008 elections and served for a single term.
Cassidy, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, would work his way through a welcoming campus-wide, college football tailgate in Baton Rouge later that day. But first he was here in a church parking lot in Village de L’Est, a traditionally Vietnamese neighborhood with a growing Hispanic population, to try to pick up a few votes.
“Wherever I can meet the most voters works for me,” Cassidy said as Cao led him toward the crowd.
Two days later, Landrieu, one of the most vulnerable senators up for re-election, made a stop several miles west for an event with African-American senior citizens in the Pontchartrain Park neighborhood. She endorsed Rep. Cedric L. Richmond, but it was the congressman’s full-throated support for Landrieu that could have a deeper effect on the midterms.
While turning out the black vote is crucial for Landrieu, Cassidy doesn't necessarily need significant minority support to win a possible December runoff — including among Hispanic and Asian voters, who in 2010 made up a small percentage of the midterm vote here. Still, Cassidy spent the morning of Sept. 20 reaching out for every vote he could.
In an interview later that day at Louisiana State University, Cassidy was asked about the campaign stop in New Orleans East, an area likely to overwhelmingly support Landrieu.
“We’re going for it, man!” Cassidy exclaimed, with his fists clenched. “If conservative values are hard work, delayed gratification, strong families — you’re seeing that evident in those communities. ... Now to be true, that wasn’t a Republican event this morning, but man we’re going there.”
Adults and children lined up under the beating sun for vision tests, dental care, cholesterol and blood-sugar screenings, and height and weight checks by some 40 pharmacy students from Xavier University of Louisiana. They were called up on the same ornately designed stage behind Mary Queen of Vietnam Church where nine years ago, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina , local residents were given free lunches and applied for housing.
Cassidy, a physician, was at ease moving through the event. Before running for the state Senate in 2006, he helped uninsured patients at the Earl K. Long Hospital, part of the state's charity hospital system, and co-founded the Greater Baton Rouge Community Clinic, which provides free health and dental care to uninsured workers.
The congressman greeted the students, volunteers and attendees, to whom he spoke some Spanish, and found several potential supporters.
Patrick Simon, a first-year resident at the pharmacy school, said he could tell from their brief conversation that Cassidy is “a person who actually cares about helping people.” Tina Nguyen, 26, of New Orleans and Eric Pham, 23, of Lafayette, both pharmacy students, said they were concerned about the effects of the Affordable Care Act on their profession and were strongly considering supporting Cassidy. Marta Hickey, 47, of Pearl River, said her family is largely split between the two parties, but she’d be supporting Cassidy.
"The Vietnamese voters, they will vote for anyone who understands their issues, issues concerning human rights and religious freedom, concerning promotion of democracy," said Cao, referring largely to Vietnamese seniors. "Now when you’re talking about young professionals, like these pharmacists and medical doctors, obviously their focus would be similar to the general American public."
Just before leaving, Cassidy ran into a supporter of Rob Maness, a tea-party-backed Republican running in the Senate jungle primary. Kevin Nguyen, 40, asked if Cassidy supported repealing “Obamacare” and said the congressman needs to give people like him a good reason to vote for him. Cassidy responded affirmatively, briefly explained his work in the medical profession and slammed Maness for saying he "would’ve voted against disaster relief after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita."
“Go on our website, we have my bio in Vietnamese for those who do not speak English,” Cassidy said. “If you do that — again, at some point your life has to be a testimony of your values and what you intend to do once in office. And I’m willing to be judged on that.”
On Monday, Richmond, who represents parts of both New Orleans and Baton Rouge, emphasized the importance of helping Landrieu. Blacks made up 24 percent of the 2010 electorate, when Republican Sen. David Vitter won a second term by nearly 20 points, and 29 percent in 2008, when Landrieu won a third term.
In a community center room with two portraits on the wall of Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama, Richmond touted Landrieu's clout and described how he can call the senior senator about legislation if he's ever unable to get what he wants.
"This race is very important," Richmond said. "Six years ago, we elected President Barack Obama, who made history. It's nice — that's great we made history. The race this year is about the future, and it's about what kind of future we're going to have."
After mingling with voters after the event, Landrieu described to CQ Roll Call the historical significance of the Pontchartrain Park neighborhood, where middle-class black families lived during segregation after World War II.
"Now it's a new day, but they deserve our best efforts," said Landrieu, who noted she was about to check on one attendee's Social Security check. "And that's what this race is about."
This race is rated a Tossup by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.
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