House races

Democrats gun for Republican lawmaker who is friendly with President Obama

NEW ORLEANS – Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-La.) has a friendly
relationship with President Obama, but that won’t stop Democrats from trying to
oust him in November.

Cedric Richmond, Cao’s Democratic challenger, said he plans
to focus on the Cao-Obama relationship this fall. But Richmond has a different
take on their bond than the freshman Republican.

{mosads}Occupying one of the most Democratic districts in the
country, Cao frequently expresses his “love” for Obama.

Earlier this year, the president invited Cao to watch the Super Bowl
at the White House, though Cao could not make it because of a snowstorm. Cao says he has visited the Obama White House 10 times.

Cao’s affection for the commander in chief, however, didn’t
lead him to vote “yes” on healthcare reform or the stimulus package.

“I think that support of the president is going to be an issue,” said Richmond,
an African-American state lawmaker.

Cao also rejected the House climate change bill in 2009
while backing the Wall Street reform measure that was signed into law this
summer.

After pointing to Cao’s votes with the GOP minority on major Democratic bills,
Richmond cited the loss of the Avondale Shipyard, which is set to close in 2013
at the cost of some 5,000 jobs. Northrop Grumman is moving its operations to
Mississippi despite lobbying pressure from the Louisiana delegation on the
secretary of the Navy and the Pentagon to intervene.

“If you had a working relationship with the president, things like those
wouldn’t happen,” Richmond told The Hill.

Richmond has been trying to forge his own relationship with Obama, having asked
the White House for an endorsement from the president.

The endorsement didn’t come during the president’s visit to New Orleans last
week, but Richmond said it’s in the works and should come shortly.

“I’ve told his staff it would be a tremendous help,” Richmond said.  

Three out of every four voters in Cao’s district supported
Obama in 2008. Some political analysts have said the key to a Richmond victory
will be turnout in the heavily African-American district.

Democrats have made it clear they want to capitalize on one of the few pick-up
opportunities they have this cycle. The Democratic Congressional Campaign
Committee has reserved almost $500,000 in broadcast airtime in New Orleans,
sources said. And party leadership, such as Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.),
are campaigning for Richmond.

But outside support only goes so far in New Orleans, where personal
relationships are key.

Former Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), who held the seat for nine terms, came
close to winning a 10th despite facing bribery charges. He was eventually
convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison. He’s appealing the verdict.  Richmond said he thought Jefferson would have defeated Cao had the vote not
been delayed until December because of Hurricane Gustav. “He still had his
relationships in the community,” Richmond said, who ran against Jefferson in
the primary in 2008, finishing third. 

Richmond has since worked hard to forge the kinds of relationships that
Jefferson had in the community.

After clinching the Democratic nomination with 60 percent of the vote last
Saturday, he was up at dawn the next morning doing television interviews. By
7:30 a.m. he was visiting church services to thank his supporters.

During a stop at First Emanuel Baptist Church, Richmond sat through several
rancorous hymns before Pastor Charles Southall, whom he calls a mentor, entered
the sanctuary and invited him to the pulpit.

“I just wanted to come and say thank you,” Richmond said, as
many in the crowd nodded or called out in support. “I know whose shoulders I
stand on after last night, and that this community wants and desires change.”

Southall, who is backing Richmond, said afterward that Cao had attended Sunday
services in the past, though not recently.

“He attended once before, but during this campaign he has not called and he has
not asked to attend,” Southall said. “For me one visit or two visits doesn’t
build a relationship.”

Southall said he would be happy to host Cao again, but “he’s acting like we
don’t exist.”

He hadn’t heard if Cao was visiting other African-American churches in New
Orleans.

“All I know is what he’s not doing,” Southall said.

Richmond agreed.

“He’s nonexistent,” the Democrat said.
“These are things he would go to – but he’s not making the community
events. We’re going to outwork him.”

The Rev. Byron Clay, who supports Cao, said the congressman is courting African-American church goers on Sundays.

“As
much as his schedule will allow him to, he takes the intiative to do
that,” Clay said. “He’s making inroads because of who he is.”

Cao, the first Vietnamese-American elected to the House, maintains a busy
schedule of public events. In the week leading up to the fifth anniversary of
Hurricane Katrina, he attended a hurricane recovery congressional hearing in
Chalmette, the announcement of a $20 million grant at the National World War
Two Museum in New Orleans and a Hurricane Katrina remembrance ceremony in the
Lower Ninth Ward.

Voters “will judge based on my record,” Cao told The Hill, citing
“the tremendous amount of money that we’ve brought down through the
various entities — pushing money through [Federal Emergency Management Agency]
and bringing money down through federal earmarks.

“The issues will be post-Katrina recovery, post-Katrina reconstruction and
post-oil recovery,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that we still
need to do.”

Despite a House GOP Conference moratorium on earmarks, Cao –
along with a couple other Republicans in the lower chamber – have continued to
seek earmarks.

His supporters are confident the community will reelect him in November.

“He’s going to win this race and he’s going to win it with African-American support,” Clay said.

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