2nd Congressional District Voters Still Prefer a Moderate Democrat – Troy Carter

The voices of voters in Louisiana’s second congressional district rang out loud and clear in this low turnout election. They preferred the moderate Troy Carter, who openly embraced working across party lines, rather than the liberal firebrand Karen Carter Peterson, who positioned herself as an unapologetic progressive and advocated for the left’s signature policies. 

According to unofficial results from the Louisiana Secretary of State, Carter handily won the election 55.2% to 44.8%, by a margin of 9,216 votes.  An analysis by the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia reveals that Peterson won in Uptown New Orleans, which is partially in her state senate district, and in East Baton Rouge Parish, where she placed first in the primary. She also did well in Gentilly and in the Lower 9th Ward.  

Out of the 19 state senate districts that comprise the 2nd Congressional District, Peterson won four – her own and three in Baton Rouge. Carter placed first in the remaining 15. In the district’s 22 state house districts, Peterson won nine, which included both Districts 99 and 91, represented by state Reps. Candace Newell and Mandie Landry.  

Carter swept the remainder of population-heavy Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, and although Peterson managed to squeak out narrow wins in Ascension, Iberville, and West Baton Rouge Parishes,  Carter also managed to outpace her in the River Parishes, which had been seen as crucial by both campaigns.  

New Orleans East was Carter territory through and through. Turnout was a lackluster, almost-acceptable 16.6%, still several points above the Secretary of State’s prediction. 

As to be expected in an off-season special election, older chronic voters dominated turnout. Peterson needed additional younger voters who are in step with a progressive agenda. More voters also chose to vote by mail in the runoff than in March’s primary.  The average age of voters who mail in their ballots has recently risen from 65 to 67 years old.   

Carter’s trajectory was put into motion the moment President Joe Biden won the election. Outgoing Congressman Cedric Richmond wanted a successor who would continue the agenda he set a decade ago, and Carter quickly emerged as his clear choice. 

Backed by Richmond’s endorsement and his fundraising machine, Carter’s consultants had the clearer path to victory. Though both candidates received numerous endorsements from the district’s elected officials, Carter had greater depth of support, especially from ministers, unions, and the legacy media.  

With the support of Stacey Abrams, Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and many other nationally prominent Democrats, Peterson kept to a relentless schedule of campaigning in small local establishments, while relying heavily on ads paid for by political action committees. On the other hand, Troy Carter received support from Republican-led PACs that also aired ads on his behalf.  Some New Orleanians became exasperated by the frequency and the dubious claims made in negative spots by both camps. 

About 100 of Peterson’s closest family and friends turned out on Election Night to show their support at Crescent City BBQ. Among those present were Mayor LaToya Cantrell, Councilmember Kristin Palmer, Clerk of Court Austin Badon, school board member J.C. Romero, and State Reps. Matt Willard, Candace Newell and Mandie Landry.  Also in attendance was Greater New Orleans Foundation President and CEO Andy Kopplin and some members of the BOLD political organization. Baton Rouge progressive activist and former primary opponent, Gary Chambers, Jr., arrived in his usual eponymously-branded attire as Peterson began her speech to staff and volunteers.

Carter’s victory party was a large boisterous affair at the Sugar Mill complete with the George Washington Carver High School Marching Band and several Mardi Gras Indians. Flanking Carter on the stage was his wife Ana, his son Joshua, as well as New Orleans City Council President Helena Moreno and Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams, who Carter called the leader of the progressive movement and a man of commitment and honor. Williams, Big Easy Magazine’s endorsed candidate in the Orleans Parish district attorney race, was introduced to the audience earlier on Election Night by former state Sen. J.P. Morrell, who is expected to run for Williams’ old at-large seat on the New Orleans City Council later this year. 

Carter profusely thanked former congressman Richmond, who attended with his son Cedric Jr., as “singularly responsible for me being here.” Richmond’s mother, Maple Gaines, was also in the audience. Carter praised his own mother, Eartha Flemings Carter, who watched from home, for inspiring his success.

Dozens of other elected officials from across the region were also present including Jefferson Parish Council members Ricky Templett and Byron Lee, Clerk of Court Darren Lombard, state Reps. Jason Hughes and Gary Carter, state Sen. Jimmy Harris, and former state Rep. Wesley Bishop.

There are several important take-aways from yesterday’s race. 

Peterson’s chances were boosted by the combined local support of Chambers and Cantrell. But clearly their endorsements alone did not have the effect of driving a critical mass of younger voters to the polls. In precincts that Chambers won in the primary, turnout was at less than 4% in the runoff.  In other words, he had no coattails. 

Many locals perceived the money and messages of Super PACs investing in this election as being off target. Although EMILY’s List only supports pro-choice women, some in the Carter camp voiced disapproval of their $2 million dollar ad buys targeting another pro-choice Democrat. At the same time, many progressives took issue with dark money spending by the Republican-funded American Jobs and Growth PAC, which appeared to have contributed some to Carter’s support among Republicans in the district. Although turnout among Republican voters was lower than in the primary, their turnout in the runoff surpassed expectations. 

A handful of local pundits have suggested that the failure of the mayor’s endorsements to produce victories for Keva Landrum for Orleans Parish District Attorney (who will instead fill the seat of U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana) and Karen Carter Peterson could be a sign of vulnerability. However, those concerns seem unfounded. Mayor Cantrell remains enormously popular with the grassroots voters of New Orleans, and it seems unlikely she will face a significant challenger as the incumbent. More serious prospects for mayor, such as Councilmember at-large Helena Moreno, are holding out another four years, when there is an open field. 

For proof that politics are fluid, one need only look at Cedric Richmond’s track record of endorsing candidates. Despite his endorsements not sealing the deal for Desiree Charbonnet in the mayor’s race against LaToya Cantrell, or Keva Landrum in the race against Jason Williams, he has nonetheless rediscovered the power of his political muscle over the last year.

Criticisms suggesting progressive endorsements for Karen Carter Peterson came solely from national elected officials and groups were off-base, as they dismissed support from Gary Chambers, Jr., who performed very well with voters in Orleans Parish in March. Our publication, known as the online home for progressive New Orleans, endorsed Peterson. She also touted endorsements from young progressive legislators, including Reps. Mandie Landry, Matthew Willard, and Candace Newell, in addition to Mayor Cantrell, and a slew of new progressive school board members. A number of progressive grassroots advocates who reside in the district, like Julie Schwam Harris, Linda Kocher, and Dr. Roseanne Adderly, also stepped up as surrogates for Peterson’s campaign. By Election Day, even Big Freedia had joined Team KCP.

However, Troy Carter was ultimately successful in not allowing the race to be defined in terms of the dichotomy of moderate versus progressive. Key in doing so was his campaign securing early endorsements from LGBTQ advocacy groups, namely the Forum for Equality, along with support from ascendant progressive heavyweights, D.A. Williams and Councilmember Moreno.  

Congressman-elect Carter ended Election Night with a call for reconciliation: “The hard-fought race is over. Now it’s time to come together. I welcome everybody. It’s time to get to work.”    

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