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December 06, 2008

Holy Cao: Republican defeats Jefferson

Indicted Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) has lost his New Orleans-based Congressional seat to a little-known Republican attorney, Anh “Joseph” Cao.

With all precincts reporting, Cao has defeated Jefferson 50 to 47 percent. The AP has called the race for Cao. 

Even with Jefferson’s ethical woes, his ouster comes as a huge shock. His New Orleans district is one of the most Democratic in the country, giving President Bush only 24 percent of the vote in 2004. And he hadn’t suffered at all politically since indicted for bribery in June 2007, comfortably defeating another Democrat in the Election Day primary.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole congratulated Cao and subtly referred to Jefferson's legal woes in a statement.

"I would like to congratulate Congressman-elect Joseph Cao on his victory tonight and welcome him to the Republican Conference," Cole said. 

"Joseph ran an excellent campaign based on the issues that are important to Louisiana voters, including a steadfast commitment to bringing honor and integrity to public office."

Cao, an immigration attorney who fled war-torn Vietnam as a child, will become the first Vietnamese-American to serve in Congress.

Turnout was very low throughout the district in the race, which was postponed until December because of damage caused by Hurricane Gustav. In a statement tonight, Jefferson blamed low turnout for his loss, saying he believes many of the African-American voters who make up his base ran out of "juice" and didn't make it to the polls Saturday.

New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist Stephanie Grace agreed that the odd timing of this election was the final straw for Jefferson.

"There were strong signs that Jefferson's support had limits when, in 2006 and 2008 primaries, a majority of voters chose other candidates," she wrote. "A special trip just to save his skin? That, apparently, was the last straw."

Late in the campaign, Republicans appeared to gain confidence that an upset was in the works.  Popular Gov. Bobby Jindal endorsed Cao on Thursday, just two days before the election.  He wouldn't have put his political credibility on the line if he thought Cao had no chance of winning.

The National Republican Congressional Committee also spent $58,500 last week to help get-out-the-vote efforts in the district, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee declined to even endorse Jefferson.

Cao also won a late endorsement from the Times-Picayune, which touted his local work to help rebuild New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

It was also a discouraging night for Democrats in the race for retiring Rep. Jim McCrery’s Fourth District seat – the other contest in Louisiana. With all precincts reporting, Republican John Fleming leads Democrat Paul Carmouche by 356 votes. The AP has not yet called the race for Fleming.

Carmouche campaign spokesman Bert Kaufman said that Carmouche is not conceding the race, given the small margin of Fleming's victory, and left open the possibility of a recount.  Over 92,000 ballots were cast in the race.

Both parties spent about a million dollars to win the Fourth District seat.  President-elect Barack Obama recorded a radio ad for Carmouche, but it wasn't enough to rally enough African-American voters to the polls in a district where strong black turnout is essential for Democrats to win. 

With Jefferson’s apparent loss and the inability for Democrats to pick off McCrery’s seat, the Democrats are down to 20 House pickups this election cycle, with one race in Ohio still undecided.  Only one Democrat remains in the Louisiana delegation -- Third District Rep. Charlie Melancon.