Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA) may be about to demonstrate how its done for the GOP on how to politically engage with the black community. Cao, a naturalized citizen of Vietnamese descent, is a New Orleans lawyer and the current U.S. Representative from Louisiana's 2nd congressional district. He defeated nine-term Democratic U.S. Representative William Jefferson with 49.6 percent of the vote to Jefferson's 46.8 percent in the 2008 elections. His win was an obvious referendum on the clearly corrupt Jefferson, collector of frozen benjamins.
Cao's district is about 61% African American and he's got a November challenger in state Rep. Cedric Richmond (D), an African American. Democrats think Cao is vulnerable against a black challenger and pretty much assume that racial identification plus Cao's republican affiliation spells defeat in November. However, Cao currently sports a quite healthy poll lead over the less well known Richmond. by a 51%-26% margin, according to a survey conducted May 27-June 2 by LA pollster Verne Kennedy. Cao leads Richmond by a 67%-13% margin among white voters, and by a narrower 39%-36% margin among African American voters.
The poll lead appears to reflect the stronger support among his districts white voters than black ones, but blacks are the majority of the district and there is no good reason to think so many of them will stay home that he can afford to be complacent about their vote. In point of fact, Cao has a great opportunity here to show the rest of the GOP how to communicate conservative values and policy positions to an African American voting audience and translate those ideas into conservative solutions that benefit his constituents. The fact that he currently maintains a poll lead with blacks over his challenger demonstrates that for black voters, its about performance, not just whether the candidate looks like them. If Cao can make the case that the GOP approach in their district is better, he can close the deal and in the process, cut off at the knees any and all excuses by the GOP for not effectively engaging with the black community as a political constituency.