So John Boehner, whose re-election to the leadership I condemned in my latest column, had this to say about Cao’s win:
[T]he Cao victory is a symbol of what can be achieved when we think big, present a positive alternative and win the trust of the American people.
Obviously the national GOP is going to spin this as best they can, and Boehner needs to make the most of what little good news he gets, but without taking anything away from Cao it is clear that this result was a repudiation of Jefferson and his corrupt dealings. Under normal circumstances, no Republican was going to win this seat, and everyone knows this. As even Cao’s most enthusiastic boosters acknowledge, his re-election in a majority black, Democratic district is going to be very difficult. This doesn’t necessarily say anything about the quality of Cao’s candidacy or his future in Louisiana politics, but the rapturous response to his win is beginning to feel a bit like the brief Ogonowski boomlet after the latter lost a special election by a smaller margin than some expected. The 2007 MA-05 special election was widely hailed on the right as proof that a GOP comeback was in the works–after all, a little-known challenger had run so well in Massachusetts of all places. Republicans then went on to lose another 21 seats this year. As for Ogonowski’s subsequent political career, well, the less said the better.
Cao is by all accounts impressive, intelligent and appealing, but the GOP is not going to rebuild its majority by running extraordinary candidates in deep-blue districts that will vote them out in another two years. They need instead to start recruiting decent candidates in marginal districts. It is telling that essentially no one in the party hierarchy was backing Cao and they didn’t even know who he was, which means that the most outstanding Republican House candidate this cycle was the one not actively supported by his party.