by Michelle Krupa and Frank Donze, The Times-Picayune
Saturday December 06, 2008, 11:40 PM
Indicted U.S. Rep. William Jefferson suffered what may be the final blow of his storied political career in the most improbable way Saturday, when an untested Republican opponent took advantage of Louisiana's new federal voting rules -- and an election delay caused by Hurricane Gustav -- to unseat the nine-term Democrat.
With the upset victory, Anh "Joseph" Cao, a eastern New Orleans attorney who fled war-ravaged Saigon as a child, becomes the first Vietnamese-American in Congress. He will represent a district that was specifically drawn to give African-Americans an electoral advantage and one in which two of every three voters are registered Democrats.
Jefferson, the first African-American to represent Louisiana in Congress since Reconstruction and a force on the local political stage for three decades, finished a close second among four general election candidates after beating back stiff challenges from within his own party during earlier rounds of voting.
His defeat came on a day of abysmally low turnout, which political pundits had predicted could be Jefferson's undoing despite his demographic and political advantages.
Ironically, had Gustav not postponed the voting schedule one month, the general election would have been held the same ballot as last month's presidential election, when high turnout among African-American voters likely would have carried Jefferson to a 10th term.