Under Investigation Watch: Freezer Burn


Rep. William Jefferson’s, D-La., current race for reelection is being described as “like being in a fight with an octopus”. The nine-term incumbent is currently facing 12 opponents in what is his toughest race to date. Jefferson’s difficulties stem from a federal investigation that has already netted one guilty plea, $90,000 in cash in Jefferson’s freezer, and an unprecedented FBI raid on Jefferson’s congressional office. Absent these factors it is unlikely that most of Jefferson’s opponents would have challenged him.

Since Jefferson has been under a cloud of scandal he has lost his powerful seat on the House Ways and Means Committee, House Democratic leaders, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have called for him to resign his seat, and he has lost the endorsement of the Louisiana Democratic Party. That endorsement has gone to state Rep. Karen Carter, who has also received the endorsements of every major local newspaper. Today, another Jefferson opponent, state Sen. Derrick Shepherd received the endorsement of 20 officials in Jefferson Parrish.

One of the quickest ways for an incumbent congressman to lose reelection is to become the target of an investigation or get your self embroiled in any manner of scandal. Voters tend to question the character of those accused of impropriety, especially those in Washington, but Jefferson still manages to hold onto support in his district. Most observers still believe that he is fighting an uphill battle, especially with the dramatically altered demographics in post-Katrina New Orleans.

In some radio spots Jefferson casts himself as a social conservative fighting against abortion and gay marriage. Apparently these are values that he doesn’t like to wrap in aluminum and hide in his freezer. Jefferson’s lone big endorsement has come from Mayor Ray Nagin. The race will likely mimic one of the two races that Nagin has won in New Orleans.

Nagin won his first campaign for Mayor with a chunk of the African-American vote and solid support from white voters. White voters have already gone sour on Rep. Jefferson and would most likely swing the election to one of his opponents, most likely Carter. Nagin’s second victory was won by locating and getting out the vote of displaced African-American New Orleans residents. Jefferson is relying on Nagin’s political operation to help him identify and bring these displaced voters to the polls on Nov. 7th. A large turnout of displaced African-American voters would work to Jefferson’s advantage. Unfortunately for Jefferson, this is an unlikely scenario.

Jefferson may eke out what would be a surprise victory. But even if he were to defeat the octopus on November 7th Jefferson would still face an even more difficult opponent in the coming year, the long-arm of the law.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at another one of the members of Congress currently under investigation. To see this list refer to this Congresspedia page.