Former Sen. Breaux to back Richmond as Cao foe gets Dem support

Louisiana state Rep. Cedric Richmond is doing his best to avoid a crowded Democratic primary in his bid to win a seat in Congress, and he’s about to get a big assist.

Former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) is set to announce he’ll back Richmond against Rep. Joseph Cao (R-La.) for the New Orleans district seat, according to a campaign source.

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“Cedric has a keen understanding of the vital priorities facing the 2nd district and the rest of Southeast Louisiana, including hurricane recovery, flood protection and better jobs,” Breaux says in a release the campaign is preparing to distribute.

While Cao’s heavily Democratic seat was assumed to draw a flock of Democratic candidates eager to reclaim it, Richmond is in a class by himself thus far, with no likely major opponents knocking at the door.

The third-place finisher from 2008 has no indication that any top candidates from the past two cycles will run again. Former Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) is in jail, his runoff opponent Helena Moreno is eyeing the state House, fourth-place finisher James Carter has assured Richmond he won’t run and fifth-place finisher Byron Lee has endorsed Richmond.

State Rep. Karen Carter Peterson, who took Jefferson to a runoff in 2006, is running for the state Senate. She is running for the seat of former state Sen. Cheryl Gray Evans, who was also thought to be a potential Richmond foe until she announced that she would resign and move to Connecticut to be with her husband.

Richmond has also garnered a campaign contribution from the Congressional Black Caucus political action committee and is a good bet for its endorsement.

While all eyes are on the New Orleans mayor’s race, Richmond was scot-free for several months in the 2nd congressional district. And it’s starting to look like a good strategy.

State Rep. Juan LaFonta got into the race in late November, but Richmond appears a heavy favorite in the early going and the Breaux endorsement helps send a signal.

“The senator certainly helps, because it sends the message that Democratic leadership is absolutely interested in this race and they’re interested in helping me,” Richmond said.

Richmond told The Hill he will report raising more in the fourth quarter than he did in the third quarter, when he pulled in $121,000. That means his 2009 total will already rival what he raised for his entire 2008 campaign, when he raised less than $300,000 from donors and self-funded another $120,000.

But even if he asserts himself as the favorite, the field is unlikely to be completely clear for Richmond. Following the mayoral primary on Feb. 6 and runoff on March 6, there is expected to be renewed interest in going after Cao.

Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, said there is plenty going on behind the scenes.

“The mayor’s race is sucking the air out of everything,” Cross said. “It’s a real sequential thing. But I’m sure there’s somebody who’s laying the groundwork to get in.”

Cao’s seat is in a class by itself as far as Democratic-leaning seats held by Republicans. The district went 75-23 for President Barack Obama in November 2008, a month before Cao narrowly defeated an indicted Jefferson.

Since then, the first Vietnamese-American congressman has been seen as mincemeat for Democrats. They would be shocked if they didn’t win the seat back in a regular election (last cycle’s was delayed by Hurricane Gustav).

In addition to the delayed election, Richmond blamed Cao’s win on a divided Democratic electorate.

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A crowded field of black candidates made it so the lone Hispanic one, Moreno, qualified for the primary runoff with Jefferson. Jefferson won the nomination, though many think he would have lost it against a black candidate, who likely would have gone on to victory in December.

Richmond said people in Washington wanted to see him show that he can be the consensus candidate, and that he’s well on his way.

“People said, ‘Cedric, you’re the one to do it. Start early; start now,’ ” Richmond said. “We started as the mayor’s race began to heat up, and there was a big payoff for starting early.”