"The Future Is Cao"
by Charles Lemos, Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 04:23:20 PM EST
Less than 24 hours after his upset defeat of a longtime Democratic congressman from New Orleans, Anh "Joseph" Cao found the weight of the entire Republican Party resting on his diminutive shoulders.
The chairman of the Republican National Committee said Cao's election Saturday night showed that, even battered and bruised from political drubbings in the past two years, Republicans "still know how to win elections." House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) was more blunt, issuing a memo Sunday declaring: "The future is Cao."
Well it might have helped that Anh "Joseph" Cao ran against a political corpse, indicted Congressman William J. Jefferson down in the Louisiana 04. It's not much different than up in Alaska where Mark Begich bested convicted felon Senator Ted Stevens. Still for the GOP, Anh Joseph Cao, the first Vietnamese-American elected to the US Congress, is a bright hope even if the GOP establishment didn't offer him much support for his historic run.
Yet just three weeks ago, no one in the GOP establishment had even heard of Cao. They didn't know his improbable story of triumph -- how he fled war-torn Vietnam after the fall of Saigon as an 8-year-old refugee jammed into a helicopter. Now they've seized on his rags-to-political riches story, along with the victory last week of Sen. Saxby Chambliss in a special election in Georgia, as rare pieces of good news after the dismal November elections.
Vietnamese-Americans have long supported the GOP for reasons not unlike those of the Cuban-American community, a hatred of a communist system that they feel stole their country from them. Every April, here in San Francisco, Vietnamese-Americans will gather to commemorate the fall of Saigon. Every year, that crowd gets thinner and decidedly older.
As such, Representative John A. Boehner might be premature in thinking the GOP's future is more Anh Joseph Caos. According to the San Jose Mercury News, the voting patterns of the Vietnamese-Americans is shifting, especially among the young and born in the United States.
"Many in the Vietnamese community felt Democrats were just too soft on communism and too weak on defense," recalls Minh Steven Dovan, a San Jose attorney who says he rarely told fellow members of the emigre community that he was a registered Democrat. Other emigres say that some Republican Vietnamese went as far as dubbing the Democrats in their midst "communist sympathizers."
But more than three decades after communist tanks rolled into Saigon, young Vietnamese-Americans are abandoning the Republican Party in droves, according to a San Jose Mercury News computer analysis of nearly 30,000 new Santa Clara County voters. By plugging Vietnamese surnames into a data base, the analysis shows that Vietnamese-Americans age 30 and under are registering Democratic over Republican by nearly 4 to 1.
"That is really amazing," said Dovan, 57, "particularly when you think of the generational turnaround."
Other Vietnamese emigres say the trend has crystallized in recent years - especially since Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who is exceedingly popular with youth, began running for president nearly two years ago.
"It's easy to understand," said Loc Vu, a former colonel in the South Vietnamese army who now heads San Jose's IRCC Immigrant Resettlement and Cultural Center. "The young Vietnamese who were born in this country are the same as the other American kids. They all go to school together. They're open-minded and they're part of the new generation of young voters. They have different ideas than the older Vietnamese."
I'd say one of the lessons of the 2008 election is not unlike that of the 1980 election. Reagan carried the youth vote in 1980 and the GOP would carry the youth vote in the next two elections by 20 points. Obama now has that opportunity -- to lock in a generation as Democratic. That's the future.
More on Anh Joseph Cao in the Washington Post.