Jefferson on ice

JEFFERSON ON ICE…. Following up on Hilzoy’s overnight item, it’s now official — with all the precincts reporting, Rep. William “Cash in the Freezer” Jefferson (D), in a huge upset, has been defeated.

Indicted Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) has lost his New Orleans-based Congressional seat to a little-known Republican attorney, Anh “Joseph” Cao.

With all precincts reporting, Cao has defeated Jefferson 50 to 47 percent. The AP has called the race for Cao.

Even with Jefferson’s ethical woes, his ouster comes as a huge shock. His New Orleans district is one of the most Democratic in the country, giving President Bush only 24 percent of the vote in 2004. And he hadn’t suffered at all politically since indicted for bribery in June 2007, comfortably defeating another Democrat in the Election Day primary.

Turnout was extremely low, which no doubt contributed to the result.

Regardless, no one saw this coming. Late last week, Peter Burns, a political science professor at Loyola University New Orleans, said, “If [Jefferson] lost at this stage, it would be a colossal upset.” And that’s exactly what it was. Indeed, in some circles, if Jefferson was going to lose in this bluer-than-blue district, it would have been more likely to see a Green Party candidate pull an upset than a Republican.

And yet, here we are. Cao, an immigration attorney, will become the first Vietnamese-American to serve in Congress. With all due respect to the Representative-elect, Cao probably shouldn’t get too comfortable. In two years, Democrats will have a candidate who wasn’t caught allegedly taking bribes, and who’ll run without the burden of multiple felony indictments.

In fact, it’s worth remembering that I’ve probably never seen so many Democrats so pleased to see a Republican defeat a Democratic incumbent. The DCCC not only refused to help Jefferson’s re-election bid, but the party didn’t even endorse him.

Cao’s surprise win has reduced the Democrats’ margin over Republicans in the House to “only” 79 seats, 256 to 177.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.