Is Joseph Cao endorsing his former aide? Or is she making as much space between them as she can?



Washington D.C. (and the Republican party) are waiting to see what Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao will do at this weekend's vote on health care reform (he told the Associated Press this afternoon he's "pretty much a definite no"). This is a 180-degree reversal of his November vote in favor of President Barack Obama's HCR plan ... for which he received plenty of flak from his own party.

Now his former director of communications is running for her own Congressional seat, and she seems to be taking a big step back from Cao as well. Princella Smith, who served as Cao's director of communications for 10 months, has announced her own candidacy for the House of Representatives, seeking to fill the Arkansas 1st District seat currently held by retiring Rep. Marion Berry. Smith, an Arkansas native, is the fourth contender to join the field.

Smith’s positions are consistently more to the right than those of her former boss, who occasionally crossed the aisle to vote with the Democratic majority, and nowhere is the difference between the two more apparent than on the issue of immigration. Two months after taking office, Cao became a cosponsor of H.R.1751 (“The American Dream Act”), which would allow undocumented students who graduate from American high schools to obtain green cards and get on a faster track toward permanent residency — a bill strongly opposed by many Republicans.


Smith’s position on immigration is summed up in its own page on her Web site: “Cut off all federal dollars to any entity that provides amnesty to illegal immigrants. No federal money for highways, healthcare, infrastructure or political pork. No money, period.” She also distanced herself from Cao’s November vote for Obama’s healthcare plan in an interview with The American Spectator: “My job was to communicate why he did what he did. That’s it. … He pushed the button himself.”

Meanwhile, Cao’s name is conspicuously absent on Smith’s endorsement Web page. Cao’s new communications director, Clayton Hall, did not return email inquiries as to whether the congressman would be endorsing his former aide, nor did Smith herself.

Should Smith win, she would be the first black Republican woman to serve in the House and, at 27, one of the youngest members of Congress ever. Her star began rising in the GOP in 2004, when she won an MTV-sponsored speech contest called “Stand Up and Holla” and was invited to be a prime-time speaker at that year’s Republican National Convention. Since then, she has worked as a spokesperson and campaign director for groups founded by former Rep. Newt Gingrich and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. In another local angle, Smith also counts national GOP political consultant (and New Orleans resident) Mary Matalin among her mentors; Matalin has referred to Smith as her “little sister."

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