Under the Radar: Cao Not Cowed by District’s Demographics
Theres a fine line between seeing ones political stars align and watching them take on the distinct shape of a sacrificial lamb.
[IMGCAP(1)]In Louisianas 2nd Congressional district, Republican Anh Cao insists the former is currently taking place.
According to the 41-year-old lawyer and former Jesuit seminarian, the GOP path to victory in the overwhelmingly Democratic 2nd district currently looks something like the following:
After the Bayou State reshuffled its election calendar in the wake of Hurricane Gustav, it now appears likely that the Democratic primary wont be decided until a runoff that will take place on Nov. 4. And that means the general election in the New Orleans-based district would not take place until early December.
Some recent polling on the crowded Democratic primary has shown former TV reporter Helena Moreno ahead in the race, and Cao said last week that he believes embattled Rep. William Jefferson (D) still has enough influence in the district to make the Democratic runoff as well.
Cao also believes Jefferson will be able to pull off a runoff victory.
Why is he so sure?
Well, to put it simply, Moreno is white and Jefferson is black and Cao believes Jefferson would get a boost from the large number of black voters who are expected to turn out in November to vote for Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.). Of course, if the primary runoff had taken place in early October (as originally scheduled) Cao said hed be less sure about Jeffersons chances given the fact that there would have been a much smaller electorate that would probably be more attuned to the anti-Jefferson sentiment that is motivating the campaigns of multiple 2nd district Democratic campaigns.
But Cao said the quirk of fate that now helps Jeffersons chances in his primary should also be viewed as a sign that fate is on Caos side.
And heres another sign: The general election is scheduled to take place on Dec. 6. Thats two days after Jeffersons federal corruption trial is set to begin a stark reminder for voters of the probe that has haunted Jeffersons Congressional career since 2005.
That, plus the upwards of $2 million Cao expects national Republicans to devote to his race (which would take on the qualities of a special election because of its timing) might just be enough to put the Republican over the top.
Its bold. Its daring. And it might just be a pipe dream.
The 2nd district is a Democratic stronghold with a majority black population and a history of sending Democrats to Congress by wide margins. The 2nd district voted for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) by a more than 3-1 margin over President Bush in 2004. And while the demographics of the New Orleans-based district have certainly changed since 2005s Hurricane Katrina, its still very blue.
During the open 2006 primaries in the 2nd district, Jefferson and two other Democrats finished first, second and third and combined for a total of 65,446 votes. Republican Joseph Lavigne finished in fourth place with just 12,511 votes.
As he sets out to upset Bayou State conventional thinking, name recognition is probably Caos biggest problem. Cao, who came to America as a child refugee from Vietnam, is well-known in New Orleans Vietnamese community, and he gained some recognition in his failed bid for state Representative in 2007. But he is mostly an unknown quantity.
In fact, one influential state Republican official encouraged Cao to boost his name ID by putting a spin on the phrase often used in elocution teaching, and said he should begin his speeches by asking, How now, Anh Cao? In the end, Cao decided not to take the advice.
But it will be hard to boost his name ID without huge sums of money, and Cao admitted last week that he had just $5,000 in cash on hand. And though he has pledges for $25,000 to $30,000 more in contributions and plans to kick in $25,000 of his own money, he wont come close to matching his Democratic opponents spending without significant help from the national party.
And thats tough to make happen when you havent yet had any formal meetings with the National Republican Congressional Committee.
But Cao said that could soon change.
I think the national party is beginning to pay more attention to this race now, and they see that a Republican may be able to win, Cao said. With all the scenarios falling into place, they have become much more interested.
In the meantime, Cao said hes concentrating on fundraising locally and getting his name out there, which is helped by the race being postponed an extra month.
On Monday, Louisiana Democratic Party spokesman Scott Jordan scoffed at the possibility that Cao could steal this seat away, regardless of when the election is held.
A Republican hasnt held this seat in more than a century, Jordan said. And considering that a lone virtually unknown Republican faces a strong field of qualified Democrats with high name recognition, that certainly isnt going to change this election cycle.
But Bryan Wagner, a former New Orleans city councilman who served as chairman of the Louisiana delegation during the Republican National Convention earlier this month, said Republicans want Democrats to discount this race.
Anh Caos chances are very much dependent upon who his opponent is … and there are certain very powerful scenarios for him, Wagner said.
And as Republicans watch those scenarios unfold, we dont want [Democrats] saving any money for the general election. We just want them to focus on each other, and Anh will come into play when the two candidates for the runoff are known. … We would just as soon have them leave us alone until its too late, Wagner said.