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Monday, 18 October 2010 19:40

Dems Premature In Pulling $ In New Orleans Cao, Richmond Congress Race

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tidmoreThe Brahmins of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee might have decided to pull their advertising from the Second Congressional District race just a bit too soon.  
On Wednesday, State Representative Juan LaFonta, one of the Democratic Primary contenders who had pledged not to go negative against Cedric Richmond in that primary so as not to endanger the Democrats chances in the General Election, savaged his fellow State Rep. and endorsed incumbent GOP Congressman Joseph Cao.

The previous day, African-American New Orleans Assessor Erroll Williams jumped party and racial ranks to back Cao's re-election.  He joined fellow Democrats Councilwoman Stacy Head and
Judge David Williams in backing the Vietnamese Republican.  
And, the tide of Democrats crossing over seems to be intensifying. The Louisiana Weekly has learned that Orleans Councilwoman At-Large Jackie Clarkson will back Cao before the election.
The Cao Campaign meanwhile touts a new poll that puts the Republican Congressman within four points of Democrat Cedric Richmond.

The DCCC Pulls Out

When the Washington Post first reported over a week ago that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was pulling their TV ads, it was with an argument that national Democrats felt so confident that State Rep. Cedric Richmond will take the 2nd District congressional race that an advertising blitz was un necessary.
The 2nd District had been just one of eight seats across the country in which the DCCC had paid to reserve TV ad space in advance, but it certainly was not the last.
While the argument in the Orleans/West Bank Jefferson district was predicated on Richmond's strength (see poll below), elsewhere it was based on an acknowledgement that the incumbent Democrats the party sought to protect were doomed.  
The DCCC went on to cancel its ad reservations on behalf of Democratic Rep. Steve Driehaus in OH 1 (after the NRCC has also taken its money out of that district), and it also cut its ads in the last week of the campaign in TX 17, where businessman Bill Flores appears to have a solid lead on Rep. Chet Edwards, the Democrat who had held George W. Bush's home Congressional seat throughout the GOP President's tenure.  National polls show that the seat is leaning Republican.
Cao Campaign Manager David Huguenel argued, "The reason that national Democrats have pulled out is they see that Richmond is in serious danger, and they don't want to waste money defending a seat they cannot win."
Richmond defenders call the argument ridiculous, stating that a poll just a couple of weeks ago gave the Congressman an eleven-point advantage.
The DailyKos/PPP poll showed Joseph Cao trailing Cedric Richmond by 11 points.  That is still weak for a Democrat in a seat Obama won with 3/4 of the vote, but it is a comfortable margin for the Democratic State Rep., or so it seemed.

Why The Democrats Endorsed Cao

State Representative Juan LaFonta appears to think that Cedric Richmond's personal problems should tank his fellow Democrat's campaign for the U.S. House by November 2, 2010.   “For years this city has suffered because we have forgotten the fight that helped us to progress in this city," Lafonta explained.  "We have forgotten to hold politicians’ feet to the fire by voting them out of office when they don’t do their job. We should not be promoting politicians when they do one of the worst jobs in the legislature, when they have failed so many…we should not promote the people who failed us."
“When we do that, then it is our fault...I was elected to represent a portion of this congressional district with honor and integrity, and to speak out when I knew dishonesty and corruption threatened to undermine what we have worked so hard to achieve.
“I must speak out now...This is not about a national game, a republican and democratic game. This is about our responsibility to have a local leader we trust will represent our interests, not some political agenda; a local leader who is honest, who we can trust to continue carrying the fight to Washington for the full recovery of the whole city…not a person who sits by as his own district remains the poster child for recovery…a representative district that is gripped by disrepair and diminution in funding and is waiting on their piece of the pie.
He went on to say, "And as the truth comes to light, I hope others will join me. As the saying goes, I will stand for truth, no matter who tells it. I will stand for justice no matter who is against it.
“I can only hope that you will do the same. That is why I am joining Democrats for Cao and endorsing the right choice…the re-election of a honest, hard-working man who has brought more than $1 billion to this district in just two years of service. Congressman Cao, I proudly endorse you and ask others in this district to do the same.”
The response from the DCCC was swift.  “Throughout this campaign, people like Juan LaFonta and Joseph Cao have been dedicated to stopping us from electing someone who will partner with President Obama to this seat in Congress," southern regional press secretary Jesse Ferguson said. "So today’s announcement is nothing new..”
Yet DCCC senior consultants had praised Lafonta's decision not to go negative on Richmond back in August.  They had hailed his willingness not to damage Richmond, even when they privately acknowledged that the choice to say positive ultimately doomed LaFonta's chances of winning the August 28th Democratic primary.  (He came out a distant second.)
LaFonta fired back, “I am a lifelong resident of New Orleans and a lifelong Democrat. In this city there have been too many political games played on the people. Katrina, FEMA, the Road ‘Home-less’, the oil spill…all of the recoveries."
“I remember the first time I showed up on Capitol Hill a week after Katrina and the Democratic National Party told me that recovery and the issues we faced were local issues, issues that they do not get involved with. I said, ‘Well what in the hell do you exactly get involved in?’
“I remember walking into state offices and getting the same response. I am constantly reminded of the times I, like my constituents, needed help and was handed some red tape. I am tired of the games. People are hurting here! That is no slogan…it is a reality..
“It is a reality that this city cannot any longer be just a pipeline for politics and cronyism. This city is full of people who are still waiting to be made whole."
What makes LaFonta's endorsement so extraordinary is that the State Representative had so little to gain politically by backing Cao.   
Despite those who have argued that Richmond's losing would allow LaFonta to run in two years, crossing party lines to endorse a Republican could easily doom him in Democratic circles, the voters he would need to take on Joseph Cao.  And, it is hard to praise a man and then condemn him on the campaign stump in the next election.
The other endorsements make a certain political sense.   Stacy Head, Jackie Clarkson, and David Williams have all enjoyed extensive GOP support in their bids for office--and all backed Cao against Bill Jefferson in 2008.
Despite the surprise that many had in Erroll Williams, an African-American elected citywide, a key member of the Morial-coalition L.I.F.E. political organization, endorsing Cao, Williams has made common cause with the GOP.  
Local Republicans like Bryan Wagner played a key roll in Williams' bid for the new single Assessor, both blocking all the conservative support from going to Janice Lemle, and encouraging Claude Mauberret to drop out of the race in the runoff.  
Plus, Williams, who had fought for years to limit property tax increases to six percent or less and heavily supported public referendums before local governments could roll forward milliages after rolling them back was already on the same anti-tax page as many fiscal conservatives.   
Endorsing Cao lets Williams actively reach out to GOP voters without seriously endangering his own political base.   Cao may not earn the lionshare of African-American voters in the city, but he is hardly disliked or feared by most Black voters, according to surveys.   
Still, Williams' endorsement of Cao matched with LaFonta's strong opposition to Richmond and support of the Vietnamese Congressman puts some of the most outspoken local African-American politicians behind the Republican.  
Still, Richmond has his own support on both sides of the racial divide that are quite significant--Barack Obama and Mitch Landrieu.   

The President's Support

The Saints were playing the Carolina Panthers when a commercial break came on with the face of Barack Obama saying, "New Orleans needs Cedric Richmond in Congress, and so do I.  I hope you will give Cedric your vote."
President, who's approval ratings top over 70% in the Second Congressional District, argued, "New Orleans has had its trials, but you have also had great champions, fighting to see you through the tough times. Cedric Richmond is one of those champions.  From coaching and mentoring kids who grew up like he did, to passing tax credits to help New Orleans businesses get back on their feet after Katrina.  Cedric has always been there making a difference for the Community."
It was Barack Obama's first General Election Campaign ad nationally, and surprisingly to Cao, at least, it came against the one Republican that the President had often praised as sympathetic to his agenda.   Control of the US House of Representatives gave a does of Realpolitic to the GOP Congressman.
The President's endorsement seemed to be having an effect as the aforementioned DailyKos/PPP poll indicated.  
The survey does show Richmond with support under 50 percent, a usual worrying sign for a Democrat in a seat that Cao only won because William Jefferson, who was under indictment at the time, faced the Republican in a low turnout December 2008 General Election thanks to a delay from Hurricane Gustav.
The Cao Campaign argued, in an exclusive to The Louisiana Weekly, that the PPP survey contrasts directly with their internal polls showing a statistical tie with a margin of error of four points--sure evidence to back their contention that the tide is moving against the Democratic candidate.      
David Huguenel outlined, "Our polling shows that we're in a dead heat.  Looking at the other things, the momentum is going our way. Our poll occurred as...we recently received the endorsement of the New Orleans Coalition and right on the heels of endorsements for [Jefferson Parish Sheriff] Newell Norman and the Alliance for Good Government....It happened before any of the most recent endorsements [by Williams or LaFonta]....All together the evidence points to the Congressman winning this campaign."
That confidence was reflected by the influential political website whose editors moved the 2nd Congressional District race from "Solid Democrat" to "Likely Democrat" nearly three weeks ago.
Still, Cao is taking few chances in the New Orleans, Kenner, and West Jefferson congressional seat, drawn to have a strong African-American majority, and consequently, a normal Democratic advantage.
On evening following that Saints game, Cao fired back at the President's ad stating, "Someone should have warned Washington that we here in the 2nd Congressional District can't afford party games or to move back to the old corrupt politics that exacerbated the disasters we are still surviving."
For the first time, Cao directly addressed charges that his campaign surrogates had been making against Richmond for weeks, including a pair of ethics charges that caused the suspension of the State Rep.'s law license after his 2008 bid for Congress, for not properly disclosing legal work dos for a state agency, and another lapse that, according to the Congressman "involves public funds he steered to his girlfriend."
The general gist of the Congressman's remarks essentially translated that the President had been badly advised to make this endorsement.
The Congressman's comments were backed by a series of attack ads outlining the charges to the public.
Cedric Richmond, has avoided a direct response to the Congressman's contentions.  Instead, over the last three weeks, the State Rep has tried to take advantage of District's ideological bent as the first part of the President's Health Care reform act came into force.  In a prepared statement, the State Rep. said, "[W]e celebrate an important milestone in American history. Like Social Security before it, President Obama's historic health care reform legislation grants assurance to the American people that adequate health care is right for all, not a privilege for some."
It was a less than subtle dig at the fact that Cao, after voting for the first draft of the House health care bill, voted against the final US Senate version, due to its lack of firewalls against the funding of abortion.
Richmond then doubled down in the next week's Saints game by introducing an ad where New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu urged voters to back Richmond.  
Rather than explaining the health care votes, Cao has touted the billion dollars in recovery dollars, and, in bad economic times, emphasizing the jobs and services he has brought to the Second District, most notably his advocacy of S. 3729, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Authorization Act of 2010, The bill – to authorize NASA programs for fiscal years 2011 through 2013 – would provide $58 billion for NASA over that three year period.   
The funding will specifically enable Michoud Space Center in New Orleans East to keep as many as 800 jobs. This comes at a critical time for the New Orleans assembly facility. Michoud has been forced to lay off more than 60% of its work force over the past 18 months due to the retirement of the Space Shuttle, and the facility was facing even further layoffs because of the Administration's decision to terminate the Constellation lunar mission program.
The legislation that Cao championed will allow for the ultimate transition towards commercial access to Low Earth Orbit, in tandem with NASA’s re-focused goals on exploration via a new HLV (Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle), parts for which will be built at Michoud, keeping those high paying employees working in the city for at least half a decade.  
(The press release that the Cao Congressional office sent out included the statement that the bill "passed the House by a vote of 304 to 118, with 10 non-voters. The vote came at 11:29 p.m. EST following a marathon day of debates in the lower chamber."  The implication was bluntly made obvious, by press secretary Taylor Henry, of the Congressman's observed work habits in the third sentence of the email.)
Cao said of the vote, "This is a tremendous political victory for the economy of Greater New Orleans. Losing hundreds more jobs at Michoud, at a time when we're struggling to recover from both the oil spill and Katrina as well as a national recession, would have been catastrophic. I'm thrilled and greatly relieved we were able to persuade our House colleagues to support this crucial legislation. I will persist in searching diligently for opportunities to expand the work force at Michoud."
"If re-elected" was the unspoken afterward of the press release.   Cao's legislation would save roughly 800 jobs at the facility.  It did not stop 300 others from layoffs a week ago.
Nevertheless, this victory for Cao comes after boasting of two feel good legislative achievements, a bill with Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (OH-11) to combat childhood obesity in America's underdeveloped communities, a particular problem in Orleans, and a commitment from the US Department of Commerce to release $5 million to Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District to develop and implement technical support for economic recovery from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
In fact, it was over the oil spill that Cao took his first shots ever at the Obama Administration, all in the wake of the President's endorsement of Richmond.
The Vietnamese-American Congressman cites a new report, from the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, which claims the Administration also offered overly optimistic assessments of the spill's impact after BP's well was finally capped.
Cao said, "These findings, if true, raise serious questions about how much the Administration can be trusted to tell the hard cold truth in life-or-death emergency situations where the public health is at stake.  The Administration appears to have put politics ahead of the people, acting to calm criticism of its performance handling the spill at the expense of providing accurate information that people needed to protect themselves.  That is disturbing."
"This can only further erode public confidence in government," Cao added, "and contribute to widespread skepticism about the effectiveness of the Administration's response to the spill.  More importantly, it underscores the need for ongoing independent scientific research into the effects of the spill on our water and seafood."
(The report stated, "By initially underestimating the amount of oil flow and then, at the end of the summer, appearing to underestimate the amount of oil remaining in the Gulf, the federal government created the impression that it was either not fully competent to handle the spill or not fully candid with the American people about the scope of the problem.")
While Cao has benefited from the general Republican revival around the country, the Vietnamese-American Congressman has tried to put some distance between himself and his party in recent days.  Cao expressed serious reservations with the GOP's "Pledge to America", citing problems with the document's promise to partially privatize social security.  
Cao's positive polling factors occur despite departure of Ron Austin from the race and the continued presence of the Rev. Anthony Marzique.  Previously, most observers thought that the former Independent candidate aided in his Republican rival's re-election, while the latter would have a deleterious effect upon it.  
For that reason, Austin worried that he would "create confusion" for Democratic voters, as an African-American drawing votes away from Richmond, and as a result departed the Second Congressional District race two weeks ago..
In an exclusive interview with The Louisiana Weekly after filing his withdrawal papers with the Secretary of State's office, Austin explained, "I never intended to be a spoiler. I have always said that...I entered this race because I believed that I had a realistic chance to winning the election, and providing the voters with another alternative, one that claimed the vital center, supporting healthcare reform and ending the drilling moratorium, supporting major tax cuts to save our shipbuilding industry but also with a willingness to stand up for fiscal responsibility in other areas of the budget."
"What I found," Austin continued, "was that my presence was merely creating confusion for voters seeking to make a choice on the direction that the Congress should take in the next two years, and I couldn't in good conscience play that role."
It was not as if Ron Austin had only launched a token bid for Congress in the race against Joseph Cao and Cedric Richmond. He saw a real chance to gain a plurality, as a centrist alternative to both, and win.  His campaign signage and exposure was quite serious-and expensive. Just as the Democratic primary drew to a close (with Richmond's 62 percent victory on Aug. 28), Austin was already paying for billboards on I-10 and the West Bank Expressway promoting himself and his bid for the U.S. House, and asking people to "vote on Nov. 2."
His website had enjoyed increasing traffic from an interested electorate, and his performance at the Alliance for Good Government forum was so on target, according to one source, that Austin reportedly came within just a few votes in executive session of an upset win. (The body decided to back Cao in the end.)
After spending thousands of his own dollars, though, Austin, who had always considered himself a Democrat despite standing as an Independent, and had always pledged to caucus with that party if elected, began to conclude that his presence in the race could muddle the choice not only of two candidates, but who would control the federal House of Representatives.  He has so far demurred from endorsing a specific candidate, but immediately upon withdrawal from the race, dropped a mail piece to the 2nd District electorate specifying Austin's reasons for departing the race, and "the concerns," as the former candidate put it, "that the voters should keep in mind with when they vote in November."
The decision came right after Barack Obama first endorsed Cedric Richmond back in September.  
As Austin left, Cao's rival to his Right, the Rev. Anthony Marzique, began to ramp up his campaign presence, putting up signs throughout the district--particularly concentrating on Republicans in West Jefferson.   Campaign advisor Vincent Bruno tells the Weekly that his bid "is serious" and admits that the campaign has made overtures to Tea Party organizations.
The Cao Campaign, though, seems unconcerned by this conservative challenge.  The 15% of GOP voters in the Second District remain committed, Huguenel maintained, despite Cao's sometime moderate stances.   (To win on November 2, 2010, a candidate need only get the most number of voters, not necessarily a majority.)
Joseph Cao won, in large part, in December of 2008, due to a strong turnout of mainly White Democrats and Independents on his behalf.   That, with a percentage of the Black vote, allowed the political newcomer to beat Bill Jefferson by 3,000 votes.
Nothing else was on the ballot due to an election delay in the wake of Hurricane Gustav.  This time, though, Cao supporters argue that little besides the US Senate race will be on the ballot.  Since, at the current time, Charlie Melancon trails David Vitter by between 12-20 points, the argument goes that ideological Democrats in the 2nd District would be less likely to turnout out against a relatively moderate Republican when, at the current time, the Senate seat does not appear winnable.
A top Richmond advisor calls this reasoning "nonsense".  "The Second District is an African-American majority seat.  Voters will not just stand by when control of the US House is at stake. They have a real reason to turnout to the polls.

Christopher Tidmore is on the radio weekday mornings from 7-8 AM on WSLA 1560 AM and KKAY 1590 AM, online at

Bayoubuzz Note:  The above  article was first published by the Louisiana Weekly