Voters in Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District head to the polls on Saturday for a special election to decide who will succeed Cedric Richmond, a former congressman who joined President Joe Biden’s administration.
Thanks to Louisiana’s nonpartisan primary system, which advances the top two vote-getters to the general election regardless of party affiliation, residents of the state’s only safely Democratic House district are choosing between two Democrats: state Sens. Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson.
The contest has become an ideological proxy battle, with progressives rallying behind Peterson, and moderate Democrats siding with Carter.
But because the race is nonpartisan, a number of prominent Republicans are also lending their support to Carter.
Eight Republican elected officials, including Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, and 67 Republican donors have contributed to Carter’s campaign, according to an analysis of federal campaign filings conducted by the left-leaning newsletter, Primary School, and confirmed by HuffPost. A ninth Republican official, state Sen. John Alario, has not contributed to Carter’s campaign, though his endorsement appears on Carter’s campaign literature.
“We’re not going to bury the lede here: Republicans are trying to win a special election for Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District,” Primary School wrote. “It’s not that they’re trying to put a Republican in this seat. ... Instead, they’re coalescing behind one of the Democrats in the race: state Senator Troy Carter.”
HuffPost reached out to Carter’s campaign about scrutiny of the support he has received from Republicans, what it might say about Carter’s bid, and whether Carter actively solicited the donations, but did not immediately hear back.
On the surface, Carter and Peterson are cut from the same political cloth. They are both veteran New Orleans Democrats and fixtures in warring factions of the Bayou State’s Democratic establishment. Peterson, a former vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, does not exactly have a history as a progressive bomb thrower.
But the contest is a case study of the ways in which coalition politics influence policy making.
Carter has some mainstream Democratic and even progressive support, including from California Rep. Ro Khanna, New York Rep. Jerry Nadler and many labor unions.
But he is also the clear favorite of Louisiana Republicans and big business and has the support of more centrist members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Majority Whip Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), CBC Chairwoman Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.). Carter is the hand-picked heir of Richmond, who is an oil and gas industry ally tapped by Biden to serve as head of the Office of Public Engagement.
Peterson, by contrast, is running as a proud progressive backed by a coalition of liberal Democratic officials and groups. Her backers include Baton Rouge activist and third-place congressional primary finisher Gary Chambers, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ political action committee, and the pro-choice group EMILY’s List, which has spent $1 million on Peterson’s behalf through a super PAC.
Accordingly, Peterson has embraced many causes championed by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, including Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, free public college tuition, and the imposition of a wealth tax on the super-rich.
Carter — who has plugged the access he would have to Biden thanks to his relationship with Richmond — prefers incremental changes that are more in line with the president’s positions.
Perhaps the most telling contrast between the two Democrats is on questions of partisanship.
In their final debate on Thursday night, Peterson said that progressive policy would always take priority over bipartisanship for her. “There will be times when I can work with Republicans, but I am not going to compromise my values on Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, criminal justice reform, passing the George Floyd Act,” she said.
Carter, meanwhile, emphasized his commitment to “compromise” to get wins for his constituents.
“This notion that we can’t work together so we draw a line in the sand, and Democrats are devils to Republicans and Republicans are devils to Democrats, that’s counterproductive,” he said.