Look what two hurricanes might blow in.
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First, though, there was the little matter of meeting his hero McCain in mid-summer and telling his hero about his father’s admiration for the senator, and then the Republican National Convention where he could cast his official vote for McCain’s nomination. His plane ticket for Minnesota was all lined up — and then Hurricane Gustav bore down on the Louisiana coast.
Cao had seen that movie before. So Cao forgot the plane ticket. He packed up his wife and two children — they were not intending to go to the convention — in the car and drove them all up to Minnesota. Good thing he did. Gustav swung a little south and west of New Orleans but, even so, low-lying New Orleans East got drenched again. From the convention, Cao spoke to a friend who told him Cao’s house had a foot and a half of water in it. A foot and a half is a lot. It causes serious problems. He was the only member of the entire Louisiana delegation (or at least of the ones who actually made it to the convention rather than canceling at the last minute) who had major home damage in the storm.
When the convention ended, the Caos returned to find they needed temporary lodging with friends. But now the family is back in its own home, living on the second floor while doing major repair work on the first, still waiting for their flood insurance to come through.
If somebody can shrug over the phone, Cao shrugged. “It is just an inconvenience,” he insisted.
The question is, though, whether Cao’s campaign is just an inconvenience for Jefferson, or whether Cao actually has a chance.
NOBODY SEEMS TO THINK a win is likely, but local political pros insist that it is doable. There is, of course, the matter of Jefferson’s indictments and the local embarrassment about them. There are also investigations and indictments involving non-profits to which Jefferson funneled grants. And several investigations of Jefferson’s family members who have served in other local government offices.
On national Election Day, Jefferson won his own primary over a white Democratic opponent, Helena Moreno, by a margin of 92,080 to 70,159. The GOP and independent registration combined is 34 percent and, if Cao can pick off a significant portion of Moreno’s Democratic votes — this time in an election without the heavy pro-Obama turnout working in Jefferson’s favor — the arithmetic starts to look less daunting.
“He has an outstanding chance,” insists former New Orleans City Councilman Brian Wagner, also a former Republican National Committeeman. “We have a very compelling candidate who is someone who can do an outstanding job in Congress. He has fought poverty [while with the Jesuits] all over the world, and he’s probably the closest thing to a saint who I have ever known who has ever run for Congress…. He has two wonderful, intelligent children, and his wife graduated cum laude at the pharmacy school at Xavier [University in New Orleans]…. It’s just a matter of combining that message with the right turnout.”
For the last two and a half weeks of the campaign, Cao has about $70,000 cash on hand, with Republican Party committees committed to pitching in (independently) the maximum allowed $84,000. And that was before any late money came in from fundraisers thrown by pillars of the New Orleans community both Tuesday and Wednesday nights, along with a Dec. 4 major fundraiser featuring newly minted New Orleanian Mary Matalin, the famous Republican political consultant. It’s enough money for a reasonable TV ad buy and lots of radio ads. And the campaign is hoping for some late endorsements, too.
If Cao wins, he would be the first Vietnamese-American ever elected to Congress — from, it should be noted, the neighboring district to the one that first sent to Congress a man of Indian descent, Bobby Jindal. And as long as the U.S. Congress should exist on this Earth, Cao might remain the only Congressman who is a Vietnamese refugee-turned physics major-turned Jesuit-turned philosophy professor, lawyer, and dual-hurricane survivor.
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