Voters in Louisiana sent two Republicans to Congress on Saturday, ousting indicted Democratic US Representative William Jefferson in one race and narrowly keeping a seat vacated by a retiring incumbent in the other.
In the 2nd Congressional District, which includes most of New Orleans, Republican attorney Anh “Joseph” Cao won 50 percent of the vote to Jefferson’s 47 percent and will become the first Vietnamese-American in Congress. His only previous political experience was an unsuccessful bid last year for a seat in the state legislature.
In the 4th Congressional District in western Louisiana, Republican John Fleming squeaked past Democrat Paul Carmouche in the race to replace retiring 10-term Republican Representative Jim McCrery. Only a few hundred votes separated the two.
Republicans made an aggressive push to take the 2nd District seat from the 61-year-old Jefferson, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, laundering money and misusing his congressional office.
Unofficial results showed Cao winning 50 percent of the vote to Jefferson’s 47 percent.
“The people of the 2nd District have spoken,” Cao, 41, told supporters at a restaurant near the French Quarter. “We want new direction. We want action. We want accountability.”
In a speech that was gracious but stopped short of concession, Jefferson blamed low voter turnout for his showing and said supporters may have thought he was a shoo-in after he won a Nov. 4 primary in the predominantly black and heavily Democratic district.
“I think people just ran out of gas a bit,” he said. “People today flat didn’t come out in large numbers.”
Greg Rigamer, a New Orleans political consultant, said his analysis showed turnout in predominantly white sections of the district was double that in black areas. He said that helped push Cao to victory over Jefferson, who became Louisiana’s first black congressman since Reconstruction when he took office in 1991.
“This is quite a feat,” Rigamer said of Cao’s victory.
New Orleans voters had long been loyal to Jefferson, re-electing him in 2006 even after news of the bribery scandal broke. Late-night TV comics made him the butt of jokes after federal agents said they found US$90,000 in alleged bribe money hidden in his freezer.
“People are innocent until proven guilty,” said Faye Leggins, 54, an educator and Democrat who moved back to the city six months ago and still has fresh memories of Hurricane Katrina.
She voted for Jefferson on Saturday.
“He has enough seniority, so he can do a lot to redevelop this city,” she said.
Meanwhile, Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the slain president whose public persona rose during this election year, was eyeing Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate seat, the New York Times reported on Saturday.
Clinton was nominated by Obama as his secretary of state and if approved by Senate, she will have to vacate her New York Senate seat.
Kennedy, whose father John F Kennedy was killed by an assassin in 1963, was a major supporter of Obama and played a surprisingly public role in his election.
The 51-year-old lawyer has kept a low public profile through the many years since her father’s death, and through the years her mother, Jacqueline, who died in 1994, suffered cancer.