NEW ORLEANS – Bribery allegations and jokes about "cold cash" hidden in Rep. William Jefferson's freezer apparently did not matter much to voters two years ago when the New Orleans Democrat won a runoff election for his long-held congressional seat with 57 percent.
Hurricane Katrina was a fresh memory throughout much of the city. Jefferson lost his seat on the House Ways and Means Committee amid the scandal, yet could argue that his seniority and clout in Congress were vital to the region.
Now that two more years have passed, Jefferson's political future has become more precarious. He is awaiting trial in Virginia on federal bribery charges; his brother and two sisters are ensnared in a separate federal criminal case in New Orleans.
Donations to his re-election have slowed and there is a reported campaign debt of $250,000. Still, few count Jefferson completely out as he faces six challengers in Saturday's primary.
"He's still influential in Congress. He still has supporters in Congress, and in the district," pollster and political analyst Silas Lee said.
Political scientist Ed Chervenak of the University of New Orleans said he detects a sense among some people in the 2nd Congressional District that Jefferson is being persecuted, but he questions whether that will be enough to save the nine-term incumbent.
While campaigning for a new term, Jefferson also is preparing for a December federal trial in Virginia on allegations that he took bribes, laundered money and misused his congressional office for business dealings in Africa. He is accused of taking about $500,000 in bribes and travel expenses and about 34 million shares of corporate stock.
Attacks by opponents have been unmistakable if oblique.
Former television reporter Helena Moreno bemoans the lack of progress and promises to "restore honesty and integrity" to the office. State Rep. Cedric Richmond of New Orleans says the people of the district deserve real leadership.