Two New Orleans State Senators Vie for a Seat in Congress in Runoff Election

WASHINGTON — A pair of state senators from New Orleans are competing Saturday in a special House election that could offer some early insights about the Democratic Party under President Biden.

Karen Carter Peterson and Troy Carter, both veteran Democrats, are positioning themselves in very different ways in the runoff to succeed former Representative Cedric Richmond, who left Congress to become an adviser to Mr. Biden.

Winning the support of an array of progressives, Ms. Peterson ran to the left and sought to link Mr. Carter to former President Donald J. Trump, a deeply unpopular figure in the Black-majority district stretching from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.

“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,” Ms. Peterson said in the race’s final debate this week.

A former state Democratic Party chair and vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee, Ms. Peterson is rooted in her party’s establishment wing. Yet she has sought to outflank Mr. Carter in the runoff, in part because she is hoping to appeal to the Louisianans who supported the third-place finisher in the first round of voting last month, the Baton Rouge activist Gary Chambers Jr.

In mailers, Ms. Peterson has placed images of Mr. Carter and Mr. Trump side by side. “Troy Carter & his Trump supporters,” one of them read. “Not for Us!”

Mr. Carter has rejected the suggestion, calling it “foolishness” and noting in an interview with The Times-Picayune of New Orleans that he is the chairman of his party’s State Senate caucus.

He has, however, sought to counter Ms. Peterson’s support from Mr. Chambers and other left-leaning groups by trying to win over Republicans and independents who could play a pivotal role in what is expected to be a low-turnout election.

Mr. Carter, for example, trumpeted his endorsement from Cynthia Lee Sheng, a Republican who is the president of Jefferson Parish, a New Orleans suburb.

“Listen, when you’re elected, you’re elected to represent the entire district, Republicans, Democrats, independents and others,” Mr. Carter said at the debate this week. “I will stand for those Democratic ideals that I believe in. I will fight for them until the end. But I will also come to the table to compromise to make sure that I bring resources home for the people of Louisiana.”

Whoever wins on Saturday will become Louisiana’s sole Democratic lawmaker in Congress, a position that can confer outsize influence on patronage when a Democrat is in the White House.

While both candidates support abortion rights and gun control, they have differences on how aggressively they would pursue some of their policy objectives.

Ms. Peterson, for example, has offered more full-throated opposition to the oil and gas industry while Mr. Carter has called for a more incremental approach toward weaning people off what is one of the state’s largest industries.

This test between progressivism and pragmatism has national implications, which in the run-up to the vote has benefited primarily Ms. Peterson.

She has enjoyed a financial advantage thanks to spending by outside groups such as Emily’s List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights. However, the race has also become something of a local proxy war between competing Democratic factions in New Orleans. The mayor, LaToya Cantrell, has endorsed Ms. Peterson while Mr. Richmond is supporting Mr. Carter.