Fans of WrestleMania won't have to buy Pay-Per-View to get their fill of pugilism between now and Nov. 2. They merely have to follow the race in Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District between Republican incumbent Anh "Joseph" Cao and Democratic state Rep. Cedric Richmond.
In a year in which the GOP is expected to fare very well, Cao ranks as the most vulnerable Republican in Congress. Democrats are licking their chops at the thought of taking back Cao's seat, but local Republicans say privately they like his chances.
Each man could raise and spend another half-million dollars between now and Election Day, and various "independent" committees (wink-wink) will add lots more to that total. Mostly the candidates will be savaging each other's record. Cao supporters will blast Richmond for alleged ethical lapses and for losing his law license for 60 days for lying on election qualifying papers in 2005. Richmond will hit Cao for voting against President Barack Obama's final health care reform bill, against equal pay for women and against the Stimulus Plan.
At the end of the day, it will come down to the numbers.
Looking strictly at the registration figures, Cao has a tough hill to climb. Again. The district is more than 61 percent black and is nearly 66 percent Democrat. In fact, "other party" voters and independents comprise more than 23 percent of the district, while only 11 percent of the district's voters are Republican.
So how can Cao win?
He has to do everything right — and catch a bit of luck. Don't laugh; he did it two years ago.
Doing everything right means attacking Richmond and planting seeds of doubt about him among black voters while maximizing turnout among whites. That's what happened in a hurricane-delayed special election in December 2008, when Cao upset Dollar Bill Jefferson, who later was convicted of 11 felony counts. The hurricane delay was pure luck. This time Cao will have to make his own luck, which is why we can expect the attacks against Richmond to come fast and furious.
What does that mean in terms of numbers?
Let's start with what happened in 2008. Cao got only 2 or 3 percent of the black vote in that contest, but he garnered almost all the white vote. In that race, whites cast a slight majority of the ballots despite the overwhelming black majority of registered voters. It all came down to turnout.
Since then, Cao has worked hard to establish his bona fides among black voters, and no doubt he'll do better in black precincts this year. At the same time, Richmond is likely to fare much better among whites than Jefferson did two years ago, which means turnout once again will decide the outcome.
If turnout roughly mirrors voter registration, Cao is toast. Fortunately for the incumbent, turnout rarely reflects voter registration. Historically, black turnout is anywhere from 5 to 20 percentage points lower than white turnout, typically around 10 percent lower in major elections such as this one. In contrast to the December 2008 special election, where nothing else was on the ballot, this year's Nov. 2 ballot will include a U.S. Senate showdown, a runoff for lieutenant governor, a possible state Senate runoff in eastern New Orleans (Richmond's home base), and other local races.
If the "differential" on Nov. 2 is 10 percent or less, Cao will need a miracle to win. If it's more than 15 percent — and if Cao can garner at least 15 percent of the black vote — he could squeak out another victory.
Neither man can take anything for granted.