I watched today's stimulus vote very closely - not because the outcome interested me (everybody knew the monstrosity would pass), but to see how which Republicans decided to break ranks. Actually, I was really only watching one vote in particular, Rep. Joseph Cao (R-Louisiana). Most political junkies will remember Rep. Cao as the giant-killer who took out scandal-ridden Rep. William "Cold Cash" Jefferson on his way to becoming the first Vietnamese-American Congressman in history. He was an instant hero for the otherwise humiliated GOP, but there were a few problems...which is why this post was not written months ago.
First, Cao is a political novice with few defined issue positions other than a staunch pro-life stance and a commitment to redeveloping New Orleans - not to mention a newly-minted Republican (in 2007, he ran for State Representative as an Independent). He cast himself as a totally open-minded post-partisan, and considering that he represents a heavily-Democratic district, many were rightly concerned that he could become one of the most moderate Republicans in Congress. Secondly, Cao's election was a bit of a fluke - facilitated by the incumbent's scandals and and postponed election (due to Hurricane Gustav). Despite his newfound rockstar status, it seemed highly unlikely that he would even come close to winning a second term. How could we be sure that this guy wasn't going to go liberal, and how could we possibly protect him if he did live up to his promise? Today, I think we may have some solutions to both issues.
I was disappointed to hear this morning that Rep. Cao was one of the only Republicans "leaning yes" on today's stimulus vote. His New Orleans-based district REALLY DOES need infrastructure money for reconstruction (and redevelopment was one of his big campaign issues). So, in order to get the funding his district desperately needs, he was openly flirting with becoming the only Republican to support the bloated, non-stimulating proposal. And then the fight over Cao's vote began.
The White House assigned a staffer to do nothing but hound Cao for his vote, and the Republican team started applying pressure too. Cao asserted his independence when asked whether fellow Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise had been assigned to "whip" him into line against the bill, and I admired his response even if I didn't like what it implied, "Steve Scalise doesn't know kung fu. I know kung fu. He can't whip me." However, Cao proved today that he could also withstand direct pressure from President Obama and pundits who said that he had to vote with the Dems to save his chances of re-election - he voted "no".
Now, while his vacillation may have implied greater moderation, I don't think that anyone can now doubt that Joseph Cao is a faithful public servant who is motivated totally by doing what he thinks is right. He has good conservative instincts, he's honest, he's an upstanding citizen, and he's independent minded - so even if he goes a little moderate sometimes, I like him a lot. More importantly, I think he's a tremendous asset to the Republican Party, and we need to make sure that he sticks around for a while...and, no offense, but running him for re-election in a district that's 70% Democrat would be roughly equivalent letting him water-ski in the bayou (otherwise known as "trolling for gators").
Luckily, we do have one - and ONLY one - shot at saving Joseph Cao from certain political destruction in 2010....we can run him as a primary challenger to U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA). You may remember that, in 2007, Vitter admitted to being a past patron of the prostitution service run by the now-infamous "DC Madam". This guy is vulnerable, and you can count on the Dems to target him in 2010. So, while Vitter may have a strong conservative voting record, I frankly don't think we should be wasting the party's time and money defending his indefensible actions. In fact, it's likely that Vitter's re-election race will make a mockery of the American political process - as there is already a very strong internet movement to highlight his improprieties by drafting porn star Stormy Daniels to run against him (and Miss Daniels is telling national media outlets that she's seriously considering it).
In all frankness, the people of Louisiana deserve better than the oversexualized circus that would result from a Vitter vs. Daniels race. And, considering the other candidates, the soft-spoken, devoutly religious Cao would probably represent a refreshing change of pace. Furthermore, Louisiana is notorious for corruption, and voters have recently become VERY receptive to candidates with a "clean government" message. This is how Cao got into Congress in the first place, and also how Bobby Jindal got to the governor's mansion.
Cao may be a little moderate at times, but he's an upright, downright honest man and a committed servant of the people. So, he could be just what the doctor ordered for both the GOP and the Great State of Louisiana. In fact, he's probably the only way the Republicans can remove the taint of Vitter without handing the seat to a Democrat. If bloggers start agitating for his candidacy now (and the people here know a thing or two about such operations), we could potentially keep Joseph Cao in Congress AND get rid of a black mark on our party (Vitter) in one fell swoop.
So, I guess my next question is whether anyone here is from Louisiana and how many of you might be willing to help kick-start some "Draft Cao" talk on the blogs (I'm not going to be launching a blog on the subject like last time, but I'm definitely willing to help out someone who will).