Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Anh "Joseph" Cao: Resume of a Democrat, Part IV

First, let me reiterate that I like Cao. I may even break party lines once again and vote for him this November. But that is only because I consider him to be a Democrat in Republican clothing.

But this article highlights Cao's fundamental dilemma:

[Cao] is facing the perils of bipartisanship unlike any other lawmaker in Washington -- trying to please a heavily Democratic constituency while relying on core conservatives for money to fuel his campaign.

Although Republican leaders have continued supporting Cao with money from their campaign committees despite his health care position, the conservative donors he's courting around the country may not be so forgiving.
And it's true. Cao won his seat because of a remarkable and unrepeatable confluence of events. He would not have won had William Jefferson not been his opponent in an election that took place, because of Louisiana's unique party primary system, one month after Barack Obama had been elected President. Jefferson, facing Helena Moreno in a primary runoff, would not have won the runoff against Moreno had Barack Obama not been on the ballot. The high percentage of black voters that turned out to vote in the Presidential election definitely benefitted the black incumbent (Jefferson) against the "white" Latina (Moreno). But the low black turnout one month after Obama's election, coupled with Jefferson's legal troubles, made it possible for Cao to eke out a victory. Regardless, even then, Cao would not have succeeded had he not demonstrated some progressive, or at least moderate, policy positions that his largely Democratic constituency could embrace as justification for voting for him.

Since then, Cao has had to walk a fine line between serving his majority Democratic constituency and demonstrating his loyalty to a national, state, and local Republican party operation that put some financial muscle and energy into getting him elected. Now, with Cao having to rely on the conservative and Republican base to fund his campaign, yet alienating these very folks by his need to deliver something his constituency demands if he has any re-election hopes, he is in quite a quandary. Progressive Democrats are not going to fund him as long as he keeps that "R" behind his name. And conservative Republicans are not going to fund him if his positions in Congress mirror that of his constituency. It's quite a pickle. He needs conservative dollars to mount an effective campaign, but he needs to convert those conservative dollars into something liberal voters will accept. And suffice it to say that begging for conservative dollars while voting for liberal causes just doesn't mix very well.

And this is why I believe that the ONLY chance Cao has to win this November is to switch parties. I'm not sure that Cao can do this now. It may very likely be too little, too late. But I would say that Cao can win if he does switch parties, because there are people like me who would take a really strong look at him, and may even be able to overlook his more "conservative" positions on certain issues, if he embraced progressive Democratic party orthodoxy on other issues. And with the recent election of Mitch Landrieu as mayor, that should be a sign to Cao that the way Democratic Party politics is working in New Orleans these days is very different than the racialized machine politics of the recent past. He has a chance to capitalize on this, but only if he promises to give the Democrats a flipped seat in the House to help the party retain its majority in what looks to be a very tough year for the Democrats.

So, come on, Cao! Switch parties now! You can still be exactly who you are, and I promise you that you will be able to vote your conscience much more easily as a Democrat than as a Republican. If you don't, you are toast. And I say that as someone who likes you and wants a reason to vote for you come November that goes beyond your not being William Jefferson.

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