Frankly Speaking, Cao’s Candor Not Always Good

Posted August 5, 2009 at 5:31pm

Rep. Anh “Joseph— Cao (R-La.) has developed an interesting habit of delivering his own unique brand of straight talk, even if what he’s saying isn’t exactly in the best interests of his Congressional career.

The latest example of Cao telling it exactly like it is came this past weekend, when he was discussing the reasons why he intends to vote against a health care reform bill when it eventually comes to the floor.

According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Cao — a former Jesuit seminarian and the first Vietnamese-American Member of Congress — said the bill would be a “no-go— for him unless it contained language prohibiting the use of federal funding for abortions.

“I do fully understand the need of providing everyone with access to health care, but to me personally, I cannot be privy to a law that will allow the potential of destroying thousands of innocent lives,— he said.

But Cao didn’t stop there.

“I know that voting against the health care bill will probably be the death of my political career,— he said, “but I have to live with myself.’—

That kind of statement doesn’t exactly play well with would-be donors, and it only gives more fodder to Democrats looking to portray Cao as an accidental Congressman who lucked into his job representing a majority black New Orleans district.

“Representative Cao’s candid confession that he votes with the Republican Party … against the best interests of Louisiana shows how out of touch Cao is with his district,— Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Jessica Santillo said Tuesday.

It’s unclear whether Democrats will have another large and messy primary in the 2nd district.

State Rep. Cedric Richmond (D), who was one of six Democrats to challenge Jefferson in the primary last year, is already in the race and recently submitted his 2010 statement candidacy with the Federal Election Commission. Richmond said he’s confident that a multicandidate primary can be avoided next year.

“As I walk around and campaign and go to churches, it’s clear the community wants a consensus candidate. You will not see the crowded primary with four elected officials,— Richmond said.

But state Rep. Juan LaFonta (D) has said he’s also running, and he plans to file with the FEC in October, at the beginning of the third fundraising quarter.

LaFonta, who, like Richmond, is black, said Tuesday that he’s heard of an effort by some African-American leaders in the district to try to limit the field so that only one black candidate runs in the 64 percent black district, but he said he doesn’t believe the nomination should be “gift-wrapped— for any one contender.

Other Democratic names that have been mentioned in the 2nd district include state Rep. Karen Carter Peterson, who challenged Jefferson in 2006. Some national party insiders believe that state Sen. Cheryl Gray Evans (D) would be the party’s strongest candidate.

Rather than championing a particular candidate in the 2nd district, the DCCC seems content simply keeping the pressure on Cao.

Over the August recess, the DCCC will be running ads on black radio stations attacking Cao for not supporting President Barack Obama’s efforts to overhaul the health care system. In February, the DCCC ran radio ads in the district attacking Cao for not supporting the president’s economic recovery efforts.

Last weekend wasn’t the first time Cao has probably been a bit too truthful for his own political good.

Cao won his seat in Congress last year by beating then-Rep. William Jefferson (D) — who was found guilty Wednesday of 11 criminal charges in his federal bribery and corruption case — in a general election that took place in early December because of a revamped Louisiana election calendar. Turnout was incredibly low, and shortly after his victory Cao admitted in an interview that a larger turnout would have hurt his chances of winning in a district that has long been a Democratic stronghold.

In the wake of his remarks this weekend, Cao quickly dropped off the radar. His spokeswoman said the Congressman was with his family and couldn’t be reached for comment. A spokeswoman at the National Republican Congressional Committee also declined to offer any comment.

Meanwhile, Cao’s supporters had to spend part of their week insisting that the Congressman was still interested in running for re-election.

A Republican strategist close to Cao insisted that he was not implying that he was throwing in the towel on his Congressional career. However the strategist admitted that in the wake of his remark, Cao “needs to show supporters and donors that he wants to continue to represent the district.—

A fundraising setback would be the last thing Cao needs after picking up a bit of momentum during the second quarter of the year.

After raising less than $150,000 during the first quarter and reporting an unimpressive $61,000 in the bank on March 31, Cao last month reported $370,000 in receipts in the second quarter and almost $340,000 in cash on hand as of June 30.

While his first-quarter report included donations from just a handful of fellow Republican lawmakers, Cao’s second-quarter report had checks from more than 15 Republicans, including Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.).