Politics

Louisiana Victory a Bright Spot for Beleaguered GOP

After two straight elections resulting in huge losses for congressional Republicans, last weekend's GOP victory over Democratic Rep. William Jefferson in Louisiana represents a bright spot for the beleaguered party. 

Whether the win marks the beginning of a shift in the political landscape, at least in the New Orleans area, remains to be seen. But Louisiana Republicans are hopeful Jefferson's fall is a turning point for their numbers. 

"I believe that this win is very significant. This win is not for one person but it's for the whole community. It's for everyone in the community," said Joseph Cao, who on Saturday accomplished what some thought was impossible -- a Republican win in Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District.

Cao ousted a congressman who is facing federal corruption and bribery charges. Jefferson is also a nine-term incumbent in a district where 66 percent of voters are registered Democrats. 

"My reaction to Saturday's results of the 2nd District is one of surprise," said Brian Brox, a political scientist with Tulane University. "It's been over 100 years. It's been since Reconstruction since a Republican has represented New Orleans in Congress, so it's really historic." 

Roger Villere, head of the Republican Party in Louisiana, said the election of Cao, who becomes the first Vietnamese-American in Congress, was a sign of growing Republican influence in his state. 

"The majority of our statewide elected officials are Republicans. We are picking up Republican elected officials in all the courthouses around the state. We're picking up Republican officials in our sheriffs, in our DAs," he said. 

"We're open to a new type of politician. Jindal was our first Indian-American elected to Congress," he said, a reference to Bobby Jindal, now Louisiana's Republican governor. "And now we have our first Vietnamese-American."

But although New Orleans went for a Republican this time around, experts say the party should not count on the seat staying that way, even if the rest of the state is trending Republican. 

"The results on Saturday were largely the result of local circumstances, particularly William Jefferson's legal issues," Brox said. "Now broader results in Louisiana suggest that there is a movement toward Republican candidates. But in the future I don't think New Orleans is going to be a base of support for the Republican Party." 

Asked for comment, the Democratic Party of Louisiana issued a written statement expressing confidence in its ability to reclaim Cao's seat. 

"After Democrats' historic wins on Nov. 4, Republicans painted the remaining elections as a last chance to put a tourniquet on the bleeding," state Democratic Party Chairman Chris Whittington said. "We congratulate Joseph Cao but expect he'll have a tough re-election battle in this heavily Democratic district in two years."