NEW ORLEANS - In a year when national Republican fortunes took a turn for the worse, Louisiana delivered the GOP two seats in Congress in elections delayed by Hurricane Gustav.
Indicted Democratic Rep. William Jefferson was ousted Saturday from his New Orleans area district, while Republicans narrowly held on to the seat vacated by a retiring incumbent.
In the Second Congressional District, which includes most of New Orleans, Republican lawyer Anh "Joseph" Cao won 50 percent of the vote to Jefferson's 47 percent and will become the first Vietnamese American in Congress. His only previous political experience was an unsuccessful 2007 bid for a seat in the state legislature.
In the Fourth Congressional District in western Louisiana, Republican John Fleming squeaked past Democrat Paul Carmouche in the race to replace retiring 10-term Rep. Jim McCrery (R., La.). Only a few hundred votes separated the two.
Republicans made an aggressive push to take the Second District seat from the 61-year-old Jefferson, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, laundering money and misusing his congressional office.
"The people of the Second District have spoken," Cao, 41, told supporters at a restaurant near the French Quarter. "We want new direction. We want action. We want accountability."
In a speech that was gracious but stopped short of concession, Jefferson blamed low voter turnout for his showing and said supporters may have thought he was a shoo-in after he won a Nov. 4 primary in the predominantly black and heavily Democratic district.
Greg Rigamer, a New Orleans political consultant, said his analysis showed turnout in predominantly white sections of the district was double that in black areas. He said that helped Cao defeat Jefferson, who became Louisiana's first black congressman since Reconstruction when he took office in 1991.
New Orleans voters had long been loyal to Jefferson, reelecting him in 2006 even after news of the bribery scandal broke. Late-night TV comics made him the butt of jokes after federal agents said they found $90,000 in alleged bribe money hidden in his freezer.