Indicted U.S. Rep. William Jefferson suffered what may be the final blow of his storied political career in the most improbable way Saturday, when an untested Republican opponent took advantage of Louisiana’s new federal voting rules — and an election delay caused by Hurricane Gustav — to unseat the nine-term Democrat.
With the upset victory, Anh “Joseph” Cao, a eastern New Orleans attorney who fled war-ravaged Saigon as a child, becomes the first Vietnamese-American in Congress. He will represent a district that was specifically drawn to give African-Americans an electoral advantage and one in which two of every three voters are registered Democrats.
Jefferson, the first African-American to represent Louisiana in Congress since Reconstruction and a force on the local political stage for three decades, finished a close second among four general election candidates after beating back stiff challenges from within his own party during earlier rounds of voting.
Republicans also held on to another seat in La:.
Meanwhile, in Louisiana’s 4th Congressional District, Republican John Fleming, a physician from Minden, won the seat being vacated by retiring Congressman Jim McCrery, a Republican from Shreveport.
The two races, both delayed because of Gustav, were this season’s last contests for the U.S. House of Representatives. Saturday’s results mean Louisiana bucked the national trend and wound up with a congressional delegation of six Republicans and a single Democrat. Three Democrats represent Louisiana in the current Congress.
Speaking to supporters Saturday night at Palace Cafe on Canal Street, Cao, 41, made reference to Jefferson’s earlier victories this season — and to the legal problems that undoubtedly contributed to his downfall.
“I know he went through two previous primaries, and that must have been hard,” Cao said. “But tonight, the people of the 2nd District have spoken. We want a new direction. We want accountability, and have it.”
Cao made direct reference to his improbable political ascent, seeming as astonished as anyone else.
“Never in my life did I think I could be a future congressman,” he said. “The American dream is well and alive.”
Indeed. And the nightmare of William Jefferson is over … at least for now.