Cao Most Vulnerable Member in ’10

Posted September 8, 2009 at 7:23pm

State Rep. Cedric Richmond came out swinging Tuesday in announcing his campaign against freshman Rep. Anh “Joseph— Cao (R-La.), who is considered the most vulnerable incumbent in 2010.

Richmond, the first Democrat to file in the highly targeted New Orleans-based seat, charged that Cao had done no less than jeopardize the lives of 2nd district residents during his short time on Capitol Hill.

“If he was successful in blocking the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, then absolutely the city would be less safe,— Richmond said, pointing to Cao’s vote on the bill, which passed the House without a single Republican vote.

“In that we had millions and millions of dollars for coastal restoration, and our coast is our first line of defense in terms of a storm,— he said. “If you’re going to fight against money for coastal restoration, for flood protection … then you are jeopardizing the lives of the people in the 2nd Congressional district.—

The majority black 2nd district is at the top of Democrats’ target list next year not just because it was the only district in the state to choose Barack Obama over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential race, but because it did so by a 52-point margin. Cao, who is the first Vietnamese-American Member of Congress, won the district in an unusual December general election that saw extremely low turnout.

By getting out ahead of other potential Democratic challengers, Richmond, who will be term-limited out of the state House at the end of his term, said he hopes to avoid another crowded primary like the one in 2008.

In that contest, Richmond, who is black, came in third in a seven-candidate field behind disgraced former Rep. William Jefferson (D), who is awaiting sentencing in a federal bribery case, and local television reporter Helena Moreno, who has dropped off the political map since her upstart bid.

Richmond was quick to point out Tuesday that he had the second-highest vote totals among both black and white voters in the 2008 primary and that he has already picked up the endorsement of Jefferson Parish Councilman Byron Lee, who also ran in the 2008 primary.

Richmond missed the runoff last year in large part because he was not well-known in Jefferson Parish. Lee was the top vote-getter in Jefferson Parish.

Despite his aggressive start, it seems unlikely Richmond will have the 2010 primary field to himself.

Fellow state Rep. Juan LaFonta (D) has said he’s running and that he plans to file with the Federal Election Commission in October, at the beginning of the third quarter.

State Rep. Karen Carter Peterson (D), who challenged Jefferson in 2006, has also been mentioned for the race, but there is also some talk she might run for mayor of New Orleans.

Some national party insiders have mentioned state Sen. Cheryl Gray Evans (D) as a possible candidate, but that seems unlikely after her father signed on to serve as a co-chairman of Richmond’s finance committee.

Including the $145,000 he loaned himself, Richmond raised more than $460,000 for the 2008 primary. He said he’ll need around $1.5 million if he wants to knock off Cao, who was sitting on $339,000 in cash on hand as of June 30.

With Jefferson no longer a political fixture in the district, Richmond said he’s expecting both local and national fundraising to be a bit easier this time around.

His efforts to increase his Washington, D.C., fundraising should be helped by the hiring of 4C Partners, a consulting shop founded by former top Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee staffers. Richmond has also hired Anzalone Liszt Research to do his polling.

Richmond is the only potential candidate who has met with the DCCC, which is seeking to paint Cao as an Obama hater.

Pointing to a fundraising letter that Cao released last week which discussed the mainstream media “gushing over President Obama,— DCCC spokesman Jessica Santillo said Cao “has made himself vulnerable by publicly bashing President Obama and caving to Republican Party bosses.—

Republicans argue that Cao is one of the Members of Congress who is most willing to work with the Obama administration on issues from health care to hurricane recovery.

“In the last eight months, he has worked across party lines to secure hundreds of millions of dollars for Orleans and Jefferson parishes to rebuild and recover,— National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Joanna Burgos said Tuesday. “Voters have seen firsthand Cao’s wholehearted energy and compassionate determination as he rebuilds for his constituents their community and their economy.—