In a stunning upset, a relatively unknown Vietnamese-American lawyer, a conservative Republican, won a special election for Louisianna US Congressional 2nd District. 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.
US Representative William Jefferson has represented the district since 1991 but is now facing corruption charge when investigators found $90,000 cash in his freezer and linked him and several relatives to a wide-ranging bribery scheme. He was the first black Democrat elected to Congress from Louisiana since Reconstruction. The Lousianna 2nd Congressional District has 65% Blacks to 30% Whites voters.
Anh "Joseph" Cao came to the US when he was 8 years old and typical of all Vietnamese-Americans in New Orleans, a devout conservative Catholic. New Orleans and vicinities have about 18,000 Vietnamese-Americans. This rerepsents less than 2% of the population. Joseph Cao has never held any public offices but running for US congressional seat, it is never a criteria. Cao graduated from Loyola Law School in 2000 and works as an immigration lawyer. He had served on the board of Boat People SOS, a nonprofit foundation located in New Jersey. Cao is married with two daughters.
He is a parishioner of the Mary Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church. The same parish that Bishop Mai thanh Luong of Los Angeles Diosce, the only Vietnamese-American bishop, used to reside as a parish priest.
Cao won the election partly because of an extreme low turn out. Last month, nearly 164,000 Democrats and independents in the 2nd District cast ballots. Even with the universe of voters expanded Saturday to include all registered voters, only 66,846 showed up to the polls. At this writing, Cao received 33,122 votes while Jefferson garnered 31,296 votes.
Cao raised almost $90,000 from a slate of party operatives, local executives and members of the Vietnamese community. He also pumped $70,000 of his money into the campaign.
This is a no doubt a historical moment for the Vietnamese-American community.
Cao won because of his perfect timing but also his appeal across the racial line. Whether he can win the re-election in 2010 is still questionable since the Democrats let their guard down with a flaw candidate in a special election.
Nevertheless, with Republican Janet Nguyen won her Orange County supervisor race in 2007 and again 2008 in a heavily populated Democratic and Hispanic district, it shows that Vietnamese-American politicians have the skill to reach out and win in unfavorable demographics.