THE BLOG
10/27/2010 04:15 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Richmond Leading Cao As Ethics Questions Linger

As the weekend began, Louisiana state Rep. Cedric Richmond, the front-runner in Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District election, suspended his campaign for what he said was respect for the man he was expected to beat -- Joseph Cao, the unlikely Republican incumbent for the district. The incumbent's father had just passed away, after all.

Perhaps it was just a coincidence, perhaps not. But It just so happened that a survey released just prior to Richmond's announcement showed that he was likely to trounce Cao. The poll, taken by a Washington DC-based, Democratic communications firm, Zata 3, showed Richmond favored by 53 percent of likely voters, with the incumbent picking up 36 percent.

Seen in this light, the clashing Facebook posts made by the Richmond and Cao camps within four minutes of each other on Thursday might make more sense. More specifically, before Richmond announced to his Facebook page subscribers that he was suspending his campaign, Cao's subscribers saw a note blasting Richmond's ethics again, at least in an indirect fashion and via a link.

"We must come together and refuse a return to corruption and incompetence," Cao's post read. "moving instead towards progress and prosperity. The race is closer than ever and I need your support!"

But if the Democratic poll is to be believed, the unlikely Republican incumbent -- who won mainly because of a hurricane-delayed election in 2008, and the legal troubles of disgraced former 2nd District Rep,. William Jefferson--was not remotely poised to win or even challenge Richmond. And the story of ethics charges made by the campaign against his challenger did not seem to have legs, at least as far as local coverage went. The Cao campaign's Facebook statement prefaced a story about the ethics charges not in any local or general audience readership, but in the American Spectator, a conservative magazine.

Even so, questions regarding Richmond's ethics continued to stir in hinterlands of the Internet, with new questions being asked by documentary filmmaker Jason Berry, who was known among a certain set of New Orleans residents for being into non-partisan muckracking of a more local sort at his American Zombie blog. In 2009, he was honored for that by a large collection of local, post-Katrina bloggers, specifically for probes of corruption in local government.

And it was he, not the Cao campaign, that continued to bring up new information regarding Richmond's work with a non-profit called New Orleans Community Enhancement. In doing so, however, his blog was giving the campaign potential ammunition. Whether it could be effectively used was another matter entirely.

Over the weekend, Berry discussed the scandal. More specifically, he spent more than a dozen paragraphs laying out collections of information--taken from police reports he requested after an anonymous tip was posted on a Yahoo financial news discussion board, of all places -- regarding burglaries of Richmond properties (with listings of $13,000 or so worth of stolen items, including multiple watches and specific brands of cologne) in 2004 and information about pilfered monies at NOCE in the same year.

Berry then left readers to connect any dots, although he never stated what those dots were, precisely. Otherwise, he used a get-out-the-vote e-mail missive from Richmond's campaign, penned by Spears, to charge that the attorney was running the challenger's campaign.

Previously, Cao's campaign had used the information from Berry's blog to make specific attacks on Richmond's integrity, including charges related to what the campaign suggested was the purchase of a Rolex watch. However, the candidate and his spokespeople quickly found their charges downplayed after reporting in the Crescent City's Times-Picayune that failed to corroborate the charges. (Berry, it should be noted, says the paper erred by focusing on charges of Richmond's purchase of a Rolex, rather than a diamond bezel for a Rolex, which had been the focus of his questions at American Zombie.)

Would the incumbent's campaign do the same this time? Johnson earlier suggested that past ethical problems of Richmond enough to create suspicion. In addition to bringing up the NOCE and Spears issues, however, he suggested that the pilfering of money from NOCE by a woman with whom Richmond was involved romantically created suspicion.

But barring an unforeseen major development from Berry or other bloggers looking into NOCE case, the ethical questions as they stood seemed unlikely to knock Richmond's from his presumably safe perch.

Tanzie Jones, a media relations person for Richmond's campaign, declined all questions regarding NOCE.