Jefferson Defeated by 1st Vietnamese Congressman
William “The Freezer” Jefferson, who has been under federal indictment for three years, narrowly lost a hurricane-delayed election yesterday to Republican Anh “Joseph” Cao.
Nine-term Democratic Rep. William Jefferson, who has been battling scandals and a federal indictment for the past three years, lost his bid for re-election on Saturday. Republican challenger Anh “Joseph” Cao, an attorney and community organizer, defeated Jefferson in the 2nd Congressional district race. He will become the first Vietnamese-American elected to Congress. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Cao had almost 50 percent of the vote to Jefferson’s 47 percent.
The 2nd Congressional district, in and around New Orleans, is mostly African-American and heavily Democratic, and Jefferson appeared to be favored to win re-election going into the election. “The people of the second district were able to transcend party, transcend race,” Cao said after claiming victory Saturday night.
Voters also chose Republican John Fleming over Democrat Paul Carmouche in Louisiana’s 4th District by a slim 356-vote margin. Fleming will replace retiring 10-term Republican Rep. Jim McCrery, a top-ranking Republican on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
Elections in the districts were delayed after Hurricane Gustav hit Louisiana in September, setting up what should be the last two federal contests of 2008 on Saturday. Both races had two other contenders who drew a small percentage of votes.
While Republicans on Twitter and Memeorandum seem excited by these outcomes, I hesitate to read much into them. The 4th was a Republican hold. Given the margins, one presumes Jefferson would have won had the contest taken place on November 4 and turnout been normal. Indeed, if he’s still a free man two years hence, I wouldn’t be at all shocked if Jefferson runs again and wins. Certainly, it’s unlikely Cao will be able to hold on to a heavily Democratic district.
Still, it’s good to get him out if only for a while. And Patrick Ruffini is right:
[T]here could be no more vivid example of why we need to run Republican candidates in every district than Louisiana’s 2nd. Cao won his seat more solidly than Fleming did in an R+7 seat. Starting with Obama CoS Rahm Emanuel, Democrats started to understand that Congressional races can be very nonpartisan under the right circumstances and that poor performance or other personal shortcomings by the incumbent can render even a hefty party ID deficit meaningless. We can’t recreate Bill Jefferson in every district — the guy was indicted on 16 counts and the feds found 90 G’s in his freezer. It’s also an accident of history that the election happened today instead of on 11/4 when Jefferson could have ridden Obama’s coattails — it was delayed by Hurricane Gustav. There isn’t a Bill Jefferson in every district, but there is a Joseph Cao.
Now, there are plenty of “safe” seats where the incumbent not only has a huge partisan advantage but is also simply a very good Representative. It’s not worth the opposition expending tremendous resources in losing efforts in those cases. It is, though, worth grooming and running good candidates who can be funded if the incumbent suddenly becomes vulnerable.