BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana voters will decide Saturday which Democratic state senator from New Orleans gets promoted to Congress, ending an acrimonious clash between two legislative colleagues who have both sought the U.S. House seat in previous elections.
Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson have traded accusations of desperate campaign attacks and lies in a runoff competition where the two candidates have only modest policy differences to distinguish them.
The race for Louisiana’s only Democratically held seat in Congress has centered mainly on personality, but outside groups see the competition between the two Black contenders more broadly as a fight between the competing wings of the Democratic Party. Carter is aligned with the more moderate side of the party, while Peterson has planted herself firmly in the progressive camp, with their endorsements reflecting that divide.
The 2nd District seat — representing a majority-Black district centered in New Orleans and extending up the Mississippi River into Baton Rouge — is open because Cedric Richmond left the position shortly after he won last year’s election to work as a special adviser to President Joe Biden. Richmond endorsed Carter, a former New Orleans City Council member, in the race.
If Peterson wins the election, the former chair of Louisiana’s Democratic Party will become the state’s first Black woman elected to Congress.
Polls close at 8 p.m.
Carter and Peterson reached Saturday’s runoff after they emerged as the top vote-getters among 15 candidates in the March primary. Carter raised more campaign cash in the competition.
The two state senators differed more in style than substance, though Peterson positioned herself as the more liberal candidate. In one runoff debate, Peterson described herself as “bold and progressive” and willing to “shake things up to get things done.”
Carter is known more for his ability and willingness to work across party lines, while Peterson is more overtly partisan in her approach. She suggested Carter cozied up to Republicans to boost his campaign, while he said Peterson’s dogmatic approach damaged her ability to pass legislation.
“In order to get things done, they need to send someone to Washington who can build bridges, not walls, that can establish relationships that mean something, not kick rocks because you don’t get your way, not spew lies because you’re losing,” Carter said in a debate. “Listen, I’ve demonstrated a willingness to work with people.”
Both candidates backed an increase in the minimum wage, the legalization of recreational marijuana and abortion rights. They supported changes in how police agencies and public safety are funded and approached, though Peterson went further saying she backed a “complete restructuring.”
“This system wasn’t built to protect Black and brown people,” she said. “We can’t just reform the police. We need to reimagine public safety.”
Both Carter and Peterson said they support the idea of “Medicare for All.” But while Peterson fully embraced shifting to a government-run, single-payer plan, Carter said he’d like people to have the option of retaining employer-financed coverage.
Across the campaign, they traded accusations.
Carter hit Peterson on her many missed votes in the Louisiana Senate.
Peterson slammed campaign donations Carter received from people and entities tied to the oil and gas industry. She made support of “environmental justice” for poor communities facing greater health risks from pollution one of the cornerstones of her campaign.
Carter hammered Peterson for suggesting she helped establish Louisiana’s Medicaid expansion program, which was started by Gov. John Bel Edwards and required no legislation. He noted that when she was head of the Democratic Party, she discouraged Edwards from running for governor.
They each touted high-profile endorsements.
Peterson had backing from voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, progressive U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, among others.
In addition to Richmond’s endorsement, Carter had backing from No. 3 House Democratic leader James Clyburn of South Carolina, New Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams and every Black member of the state Senate besides Peterson.
Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.