Could The Stars Be Aligning For Cao’s Re-Election?

It’s been largely taken for granted among the state’s political wags and election-watchers that Republican Joseph Cao, Louisiana’s unlikely congressional representative from the 2nd District, is all but doomed to a one-term stint in the House of Representatives due to the demographics of his district.

After all, Cao’s 2008 election occurred in the most freakish of circumstances – he won an election held after the normal election date because of a hurricane, with very low turnout, against an incumbent Democrat who was on his way to federal prison. It was said that against any other Democrat but “Dollar Bill” Jefferson, Cao would have been toast – but events conspired to send him to Washington as he beat Jefferson 49 percent to 47.

This time around, the conventional wisdom says, whoever emerges from the Democrat primary – the two most likely candidates are state Sen. Cedric Richmond or state Rep. Juan LaFonta – would swamp Cao in a general election along racial lines. The 2nd District encompasses Orleans Parish, the West Bank of Jefferson Parish and a chunk of the southern part of Kenner. It’s a majority-black district (64.1 percent black and 30 percent white, per Wikipedia), so without highly unusual circumstances it’s difficult for a non-black candidate like Cao to win.

But Christopher Tidmore of BayouBuzz.com reports that unusual circumstances might be returning to the district in the second straight election…

In an exclusive, long-time Orleans Sewerage and Water Board member Tommie Vassel, a political rising star in Crescent City and former Council candidate, has revealed that he will likely be a candidate in November’s election for the U.S. House of Representative. And, he will run as an Independent.

Moreover, the immediate past President of the national Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Rev. Byron Clay of Kenner–a minister who extensive political connections amongst the Black Clergy–is being urged by many of the liturgical colleagues to run for Congress against Cao as well–as an Independent. Should he stand, Clay would join Vassel and the likely Democratic candidate, State Representative Cedric Richmond, in pitting three prominent African-American challengers against the sitting 2nd District Republican Representative.

Even in a highly Democratic, Black Majority Congressional seat like the New Orleans, South Kenner, and West Bank Jefferson district, two Independents dividing the vote with the Democratic contender might be enough to allow a Republican, elected in a political fluke, to win a second term.

And, even if Cao should lose, either Independent, Clay or Vassel, already enjoys enough political support that either has the potential of besting Richmond. In the “First Past the Post” system adopted in Louisiana Congressional elections almost six years ago, the victor could easily win with just 35% of the vote–or less.

If Cao manages to win, it’s entirely likely that Louisiana’s entire House delegation to the 112th Congress will be Republican. Five members of the seven-member delegation – Rodney Alexander, Steve Scalise, Bill Cassidy, Charles Boustany and John Fleming – appear either unopposed or nearly so, while Jeff Landry, Hunt Downer and Kristian Magar are engaged in a spirited GOP campaign for the seat being vacated by Democrat Charles Melancon in the 3rd District in south-central Louisiana – the winner of which will be heavily favored over Democrat Ravi Sangisetty. Cao’s seat is the only one which conventional wisdom had going Democrat this fall.

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