(LA-2 Candidate Troy Carter’s Closing Ad)
By Jim Ellis
April 26, 2021 — The special election to fill the vacant Louisiana congressional district from which former Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-New Orleans) resigned when he accepted a Biden White House appointment was decided Saturday, with the contest having evolved into a more significant race than originally anticipated.
The one thing we knew coming into the special election was that a Democratic New Orleans state senator would win the race, but the question around which of the two would prevail was one of longer-term national importance. We saw in this race not just a runoff between two Democratic contenders for a Democratic congressional seat, but rather an intensifying battle between the more traditional party base and the hard left movement that has had success in other places.
A victory for the Justice Democrats in the person of state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) will increase the movement’s strength and likely lead to stronger primary challenges against more traditional Democratic incumbents come 2022.
Remember, state Sen. Troy Carter (D-New Orleans) placed first in the March 20 jungle primary with 34 percent of the vote. Sen. Peterson edged Baton Rouge community activist Gary Chambers, Jr. by 22.9 – 21.3 percent, a margin of 1,510 votes of 94,567 votes cast and spread among 15 candidates.
In the LA-2 special election on Saturday, Carter won by a 10-point spread over Peterson, 55-45%.
Peterson ironically qualified for the runoff with a better-than-expected performance in the Baton Rouge section of the district and fell below expectations in her home city of New Orleans. Conversely, Chambers proved weaker in his home of Baton Rouge but stronger in New Orleans.
Chambers’ endorsement of Sen. Peterson marked the beginning of the support we saw moving toward the second-place finisher, but the lack of available polling data – the last poll we’d seen for this race came from Edgewater Research over the March 1-2 period, which gave Sen. Carter a 35-24 percent lead – allowed us to surmise that Saturday’s end result was likely to be close and could have trended in either direction.
In addition to Chambers and the Justice Democrats supporting Sen. Peterson, other well-known progressive left groups such as the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC, Democracy for America, EMILY’s List, League of Conservation Voters Action Fund, and the Sierra Club lined up behind her. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams also joined the support group for Sen. Peterson.
Sen. Carter got the more traditional Democratic support. Former Rep. Richmond led the early Carter endorsements, and Congressional Black Caucus chair Joyce Beatty (D-OH), House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC), House Democratic Conference chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), New Orleans City Council President Helena Moreno, and mayor/president of East Baton Rouge Parish, Sharon Weston Broome, as well as former Louisiana US Sen. John Breaux all followed suit. The AFL-CIO and the Forum for Equality were Sen. Carter’s major organizational endorsements.
In terms of financial resources, the latest available reports were filed consistent with the pre-election filing deadline, which, in this case, was April 4. Sen. Carter had raised $1.54 million for the campaign as compared to $830,000 for Sen. Peterson. Outside organizations have come in for both candidates, however.
Heading into Saturday’s vote, Sen. Carter appeared to be on defense, but he was running an offensive defense strategy. His last ad (shown at top) takes on independent expenditure attacks against him. He explains his position, a sign that the attacks have hurt his standing, but does so in a believable way. If one feels they must be defensive, Sen. Carter performs well in delivering his script.
As always in special elections, turnout is the name of the game. The win really just came down to whichever candidate did the better job in taking advantage of the early voting process and delivering their votes. That is why Sen. Carter, who had more support, proved that the determining factor was his campaign’s ability in turning out the vote in adequate numbers.
Turnout was expected to fall somewhat short of the 94,000-plus voters who participated in the jungle primary, which is typical for secondary runoff election despite their status as the determining factor. Based on voting history and typical drop-off rates from general election to secondary election, we expected that Saturday’s aggregate participation figure would fall within the 75-90,000 range. It hit right in the middle of that projection; actual unofficial turnout was 87,806.