- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2008

In a message on his campaign Web site, Louisiana Democrat Rep. William Jefferson says he looks forward to “working in tandem with President Obama,” whose election bid, he also says, he was proud to support.

But President-elect Barack Obama, who recorded a radio ad on behalf of another Louisiana Democrat, Paul Carmouche, has avoided a similar display of support for incumbent Mr. Jefferson, who, like Mr. Carmouche, is participating in a runoff election Saturday.

The snub is hardly surprising given Mr. Jefferson’s pending trial on charges that he accepted bribes to promote business deals in Africa. According to the FBI, the lawmaker was videotaped accepting $100,000 from an informant before authorities later found $90,000 hidden in the freezer of his Washington home.

Nevertheless, the embattled congressman - who more than two years ago was stripped of his seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee - is favored to win a 10th term Saturday in the heavily Democratic 2nd Congressional District, which includes New Orleans.

“If he lost at this stage, it would be a colossal upset,” said Peter Burns, an associate political science professor at Loyola University New Orleans.

Mr. Jefferson handily won a weather-delayed Nov. 4 runoff against Democratic challenger Helena Moreno after leading a crowded October primary with only 25 percent of the vote. His opponents in Saturday’s general election include Republican Anh “Joseph” Cao, Green Party candidate Malik Rahim and Libertarian Party candidate Gregory Kahn.

Campaign manager Eugene Green said there has been “too much emphasis on legal concerns” and described Mr. Jefferson, 61, as a well-connected advocate who can bring back the funds for the region’s efforts to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

“The citizens of his district, as the [primary] vote has shown, are looking beyond that investigation and looking at the positive things he’s done over the years as an elected official,” Mr. Green said. “He has never hesitated or shied away from addressing concerns expressed by citizens, whether they be on a local, state or federal level.”

Concerning whether a looming federal trial would prove overly distracting for the lawmaker - who maintains his innocence - Mr. Green said: “His work ethic, his work habits have not been called into question.”

Mr. Cao, 41, is a Vietnamese refugee and former seminarian who has worked as a professor and a lawyer. Noting that turnout is more challenging in a special election, Mr. Cao’s finance chairman, Murray Nelson, said people backing “a candidate who stands for integrity” will be more compelled to head to the voting booths.

“We feel that those people are going to turn out in great numbers so that we can actually have a representative who can move New Orleans and Louisiana forward,” said Mr. Nelson, echoing an argument made by the New Orleans Times-Picayune in its endorsement of Mr. Cao that Mr. Jefferson’s clout in Congress has shrunk in the wake of his indictment.

Calls to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about Mr. Jefferson were not returned. The Obama transition office said Mr. Obama has not done campaigning of any kind for Mr. Jefferson and did not elaborate on his election.

“The fact that William Jefferson remains a member of the House Democratic Caucus is probably the clearest indicator that the House Democratic leadership has broken its promise to the American people to ‘drain the swamp’ in Washington,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Ohio Republican leader Rep. John A. Boehner.

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this article.

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