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Normal circumstances make Cao reelection difficult

With all due respect to longtime Orleans Parish stalwart Republican and former city councilman Bryan Wagner, saying GOP Rep.-elect Anh “Joseph” Cao was going to win earlier this month the majority-black-Democrat Second District without a favorable confluence of events shows less political sense than the neophyte Cao’s, who acknowledges these things. Whether he can win absent these dynamics in 2010 is another matter.

Wagner, who played a major role in the Cao campaign, naturally wants to create the impression of future electability of Cao because he understands the fundamental truism (misunderstood by many) that donations go to candidates on the basis of their quality, i.e. ability to win. These resources Cao will need for a 2010 run because all the Democrats in the 2008 contest except one outraised him as of Nov. 16 in terms of both total funding and individual donations. However, it is likely when the next reports in early January are released through the general election, Cao’s totals should have gone up considerably and won’t be reported too far behind incumbent and indicted Bill Jefferson’s.

Let’s not kid ourselves over why this was the case: Jefferson was viewed by many, even by some who voted for him, as corrupt, discouraging electoral and monetary support. Some portion of these people, as shown previously, who had supported Democrats against him twice unsuccessfully in the party primary and runoff, while they could not bear to vote for a non-Democrat in the general election did not vote for Jefferson thus at all. But an underreported aspect of the election was the fissures in the black vote that had begun to appear in the Democrat runoff primary in black support for Jefferson spread more forcefully in the general election.

As previously noted, in the runoff estimated black support (calculated by Jefferson proportion of the vote less proportion black registration) for Jefferson dipped to about 89.5 percent against a Hispanic opponent. It further dipped in the 142 precincts with at least 90 percent black registration to less than 85 percent, precincts on average only voting about 80 percent in Jefferson’s favor (in several, he barely pulled an estimated 70 percent of the black vote). (Contrast this with the five 90 percent-plus white precincts that gave Cao an average 92 percent of the vote, where he got an estimated 95 percent of the white vote.) Simply, an unusually high proportion of blacks abandoned a black candidate in favor of a Republican, and it’s hard not to conclude it was more the scandal-tinged Jefferson than Cao’s campaign that triggered this significant exodus.

So Cao was seen this election cycle as a quality, competitive candidate, but most likely because of the nature of his opposition. Reduced black loyalty to a black candidate when running against a non-black, the introduction of (mostly white) Republicans into the contest who were absent in the primary which had produced the least-electable candidate, and, as previously observed, a much bigger drop in black compared to white participation from the primaries in part due to black registrants’ questions about Jefferson all played a role in making Cao an attractive candidate, obviously enough to win.

That perception will be enhanced by a couple of years’ service in Washington. But that time also is plenty for one or more black Democrats free of scandal to position themselves well to win the 2010 party nomination to go up against Cao. Such a candidate will restore black voting loyalty to levels not far below those below the Jefferson era’s (giving Cao a little credit for some minor conversion through good service) and not discourage those blacks who stayed home. This scenario creates numbers that undeniably will make Cao a longshot for reelection, and no amount of talking up his chances by senior Republicans will change this. Not acknowledging this reality almost certainly will lead to his defeat.

Although I do envision one scenario where Cao’s chances would be pretty good. I won’t go into details now, but it involves as the Democrat nominee somebody who believes a high crime rate “keeps the New Orleans brand visible” and envisions New Orleans as a “chocolate city” ….

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