Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao (R)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: March 19, 1967, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam .
Home: New Orleans.
Education: Baylor U., B.S. 1990; Fordham U., M.A. 1995; Loyola U., J.D. 2000..
Family: Married (Kate); 2 children.
Professional Career: Instructor, Loyola U.; Legal cnsl., Boat People SOS.; Mbr., Natl. Advisory Cncl. Of the U.S. Conf. of Catholic Bishops, 2002; New Orleans parish board of elections, 2007
The new congressman from the 2nd District is Anh (Joseph) Cao, a Republican who won a December 2008 runoff. Cao (GOW) is the first Vietnamese-American elected to Congress. His victory in the overwhelmingly Democratic district was no doubt influenced by the legal problems of the ethically challenged incumbent, William Jefferson. Cao’s life story offered voters an uplifting alternative to the sordid tale of Jefferson and his freezer full of illicit cash. Three days before Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese, in April 1975, Cao, then just 8, escaped in a U.S. military-transport plane with a brother and sister. His father had been a military officer and was sent to a Viet Cong “re-education camp;” he was reunited with the family years later. Cao settled with an uncle in Houston, where he graduated from high school and got a bachelor’s degree in physics from Baylor University. He joined the Jesuit order, did missionary work in Mexico and Vietnam, and earned a master’s degree in philosophy from Fordham University. Cao taught at Loyola University in New Orleans, got a law degree there, and began to represent immigrants in the local Vietnamese community. Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, he organized and gave legal advice to civic groups, helping one of them shut down a landfill that had been put in a Vietnamese neighborhood. In 2007, he ran for the state House and missed forcing the race into a runoff when he lost by just 250 votes.
|Anh "Joseph" Cao (R)||33,132||(50%)||($234,559)|
|William Jefferson (D)||31,318||(47%)||($342,240)|
|Malik Rahim (Green)||1,883||(3%)||($945)|
|Anh "Joseph" Cao (R)||Unopposed|
Under ordinary circumstances, Cao, as a Republican, would have had no chance in this district. But he was running against nine-term Jefferson, whose career took a plunge after the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided his Capitol Hill home and found $90,000 in “cold cash” in his kitchen freezer, part of more than $400,000 that the investigators’ affidavit called bribe money. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stripped him of his seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, despite pleas from the Congressional Black Caucus to wait until Jefferson had his day in court. Even after Jefferson was indicted in June 2007 for bribery, he sought to retain his House seat. In a seven-candidate Democratic primary in October 2008, he led the first round with 25% of the vote. That forced a runoff with Helena Moreno, a former television news anchor who was making her first run for elected office. Jefferson refused to debate, and Moreno pledged to restore respect for Louisiana. Still, Jefferson won the primary runoff, 57%-43%.
Cao won the Republican nomination without opposition and raised $113,500 for his campaign. With turnout expected to be low for the Dec. 6 contest, he worked with local Republican activists to get out the vote among Republicans and the roughly 20,000 local Vietnamese. He campaigned on traditional conservative positions, opposing abortion rights and supporting government vouchers for private-school tuition and a reduction in the size of government. He promised to restore “ethics and honesty” to the office. Jefferson spent $342,240, and assured voters that despite losing his committee post, he maintained influence through his connections to other members of the Black Caucus. Cao won 50% to 47%. His margin of victory came from Jefferson Parish, which cast 32% of the vote and which Cao won 60% to 38%. Jefferson won in Orleans Parish, 51%-45%. The contest was held a month after Election Day, when Barack Obama took 79% of the vote in Orleans Parish.
Cao’s victory was one of the few bright notes for Republicans in 2008. House Minority Leader John Boehner crowed in a post-election memo, “The Future Is Cao.” The freshman got seats on the Homeland Security and the Transportation and Infrastructure committees. When Democrats said they would target him in 2010, Cao said that he had proved the political experts wrong in 2008 and “I’m sure we’ll prove them wrong again.” If he somehow manages to win a second term in this district, he might subsequently get a boost from redistricting.