Two longtime Louisiana state legislators are headed to an April 24 runoff in the special election to replace Democrat Cedric L. Richmond in the deep-blue 2nd District.
Democratic state Sen. Troy Carter was leading an all-party, 15-candidate field Saturday with 36 percent of the vote when The Associated Press declared he had made the runoff. He next faces fellow Democrat Karen Carter Peterson, also a state senator, who finished second with 23 percent, edging out progressive outsider Gary Chamber who took 21 percent.
Under Louisiana law, a candidate must receive more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.
In the state’s other special election on Saturday, Republican college administrator Julia Letlow was elected to the 5th District seat her husband won in December but never filled after he died of complications of COVID-19. Letlow was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, who carried the largely rural district by 30 points in November, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections.
In the 2nd District, which stretches from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, Carter campaigned as better positioned to bring federal resources to a district where 21 percent of residents are below the federal poverty line. He had the coveted endorsement from Richmond, who resigned in January for a post in the White House.
“I will have the ear of the guy who has the ear of the president of the United States,” said Carter, the state Senate minority leader.
Carter was the top fundraiser in the race through Feb. 28, pulling in $924,000 to Carter Peterson’s $752,000 and Chambers’ $410,000, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Carter told CQ Roll Call that his track record in building relationships and passing bipartisan legislation in the state Senate was a factor in Richmond’s decision to back him. “In congressional halls, relationships matter,” he said. “Being able to work with people matters.”
He also pointed to his experience in local government as a top aide to New Orleans Mayor Sidney Barthelemy in the 1980s and a member of the city council in the mid-1990s.
“That’s demonstrative of someone who doesn’t sit in the ivory tower,” he said. “That’s demonstrative of a leader that likes to be in contact with people. And the strength of having empathy for the people that you serve is very important.”
Carter Peterson would be the first Black woman to represent Louisiana in Congress if elected
Though Richmond did not endorse her, she noted that she has a long relationship with him. She said her opponent may have golfed with Richmond, but she fished with him.
Carter Peterson chaired the Louisiana Democratic Party for eight years, ending her term in 2020. She also served as vice chair of civic engagement and voter protection at the Democratic National Committee, where she developed relationships with national party leaders.
Her backers included Georgia voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, Higher Heights for America PAC, which supports progressive Black women, and EMILY’s List, which backs Democratic women committed to protecting abortion rights.
Women Vote, the independent expenditure arm of EMILY’s List, spent $599,000 on media and mailings supporting Peterson and opposing Carter, according to disclosures with the FEC. American Jobs and Growth PAC, a conservative Republican super PAC, spent $84,000 on digital ads opposing Peterson.
While Carter highlighted his support for LGBTQ rights and raising the minimum wage and said he had championed womens’ rights, Carter Peterson defined herself as more progressive. She also stressed the importance of electing a woman in a state where female lawmakers have been traditionally underrepresented.
“Black women are the soul of the Democratic Party and have saved our country from Donald Trump,” she said. “It's time that Louisiana … sent an African American woman to Congress, and I hope to be that person.”
Chambers, who ran to Carter Peterson’s left, attracted a massive social media following for a video calling out a school board member for allegedly internet shopping during a meeting about racist school names. He said he raised $300,000 from over 10,000 donors.
The 2nd District, which is majority Black, is the state’s only Democratic-leaning seat. President Joe Biden carried it by more than 52 points in November, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections, while Richmond beat his nearest competitor in a six-candidate field by nearly 49 points.
The state GOP’s preferred candidate, Olympic decathlete and author Claston Bernard, was in fourth place in Saturday’s special election with 10 percent.