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Endangered Cao Banks Just $61,000

The man often considered the most vulnerable Republican in the House, Louisiana Rep. Anh “Joseph— Cao, had Democrats grinning Thursday after his first-quarter Federal Election Commission report showed him with less than $61,000 in cash on hand at the end of March.

Cao, who pulled off the upset of the 2008 cycle by ousting nine-term Rep. William Jefferson (D) in overwhelmingly Democratic New Orleans, continues to carry a huge target on his back, and his $60,526 in the bank won’t do anything to shrink it.

“Congressman Cao’s weak financial standing shows that his record of voting the Republican party line — against cutting taxes for small businesses and working people — isn’t well received by his constituents,— Scott Jordan, communications director for the Louisiana Democratic Party, said Thursday.

But Republicans say they are encouraged by the $143,470 that Cao reported raising from Jan. 1 to March 31.

That number, according to Cao’s Chief of Staff Clayton Hall, puts the Member in the middle of the pack for first-quarter fundraising among freshman Republican House Members. Cao’s expenditures in the first three months of the year totaled nearly $91,000, and several thousands of dollars of that went toward paying off campaign debt from the last year’s election, which didn’t take place until December.

“We’re right on pace with where we wanted to be,— Hall said, acknowledging that the campaign plans to “ramp up— fundraising in the next quarter. “We feel good. … Our cash on hand, while we would have loved for it to be a little bit bigger, we had to pay some bills.—

The campaign has already seen evidence that Cao’s personal story has a nationwide appeal, Hall said, and as more people learn about Cao, his fundraising base will continue to grow. For example, a national fundraising letter at the end of March netted some 600 new donors, Hall said.

“He may have a target, but he has got, more importantly, a great story,— Hall said.

Cao, a lawyer and former Jesuit seminarian, came to the U.S. as a child refugee from Vietnam. Before being elected, he was well-known in New Orleans’ Vietnamese community, particularly for his work after Hurricane Katrina.

As the first Vietnamese-American Member of Congress, Cao has become a star in Vietnamese communities across the country, as well as a symbol of hope for Republicans. He beat Jefferson, who is black, in a district where the African-American population is 64 percent. He won by fewer than 2,000 votes against Jefferson, who had been plagued by scandal for two election cycles and now awaits trial on federal bribery and corruption charges.

On Thursday, supporters of Jefferson released an newsletter that included an invitation to a May event to honor Jefferson’s “three decades of service— to the 2nd district. That newsletter also took time to attack Cao for his early votes in Congress to block President Barack Obama’s budget and stimulus proposals.

National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay said Thursday that the national party is confident that Cao will be well-positioned, financially and politically, to defend his seat in 2010.

“When you replace a corrupt and ineffective Democrat like Dollar Bill’ Jefferson, it’s understandable that providing effective constituent service demands greater urgency than political fundraising,— Lindsay said. “Joseph Cao is giving the residents of New Orleans the representation they deserve in a challenging time, which is probably the reason why Democrats have yet to field a candidate in this district.—

Despite the lack of early movement, Democrats are likely to have a large primary on their hands in the 2nd district in 2010. Among those being mentioned for the nomination are state Rep. Cedric Richmond, who ran against Jefferson in the 2008 Democratic primary, and state Sen. Cheryl Gray.

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