Why Republicans Are Working So Hard to Elect This Democrat to Congress
A race in a deep-blue Louisiana district is being flooded with GOP cash.
Before joining the Biden White House as the director of its Office of Public Engagement, Cedric Richmond was—relative to his deep-blue district in Louisiana—one of the more conservative Democrats in the House, particularly on energy issues. On Saturday, voters will select Richmond's replacement—and, in a notable twist, one of the two Democratic state senators vying to succeed him is getting a boatload of help from Republican politicians and donors.
Sens. Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson placed first and second in the first round last month, respectively, and are heading to a runoff Saturday. As the Primary School newsletter, which has been on top of the race, reported this week, Carter—Richmond's chosen replacement—has received the financial backing from a slew of big Republicans in the state, including Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, the top GOP official in Louisiana, and three Republicans in the Louisiana Senate.
Carter has also received support from top GOP donors in Louisiana, as Primary School reported, including Phyllis Taylor. Taylor is a billionaire oil magnate and prolific GOP donor who's given well over $1 million to conservative causes, including over $225,000 to House Minority Whip Steve Scalise's PAC since 2015. Taylor maxed out her donation to Carter at the same time as she gave Louisiana GOP House candidate Julia Letlow, who ran for (and won) a different House seat in a special election last month to replace her husband, Luke Letlow. And out of the 90 top donors to former President Donald Trump, 10 of them are on Carter's donor list and just one, who gave to Carter as well, is on Peterson's, Primary School reported.
Peterson wasn't the best candidate in the race—that was activist Gary Chambers Jr., who finished a surprisingly strong third and then endorsed Peterson —but she's angled herself as the progressive alternative to Carter, touted her support of Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, and faced attacks by a Republican super PAC in addition to being outraised by Carter. Carter, meanwhile, would continue Richmond's unabashedly oil-friendly posture in an area that's been dubbed "Cancer Alley" for the industry's impact on public health on mostly Black and poor communities.
Carter defended the industry in a debate last week while gesturing ambiguously towards a transition away from fossil fuels. Per E&E News:
"Twenty percent of our strategic reserve for the country is in the state of Louisiana," he said. "So we can't ignore that and just act as if that's not real. We all recognize that we want a cleaner and greener economy. I certainly do, and I will continue to fight for that. But we have to do it in a way that's smart."
Carter also does the "pragmatic progressive" thing, which as the New Orleans Advocate pointed out, has rarely actually provided any benefit:
Carter remembered that he appeared on WWL-AM one day, and a caller wanted to know why he was seeking to raise the rate to just $9 per hour.
“I said, ‘Have you been to the Legislature lately? It’s going to be a dogfight just to get to this.’”
Carter has never won the dogfight. His best showing was winning 17 votes in the 39-member Senate in 2018.
Usually one vote isn't that big of a deal, but the margins in the House are tantalizingly thin and every vote matters, not just for the left-wing of the caucus but the caucus as a whole. The Democrats can only afford to lose a handful of votes in order to get legislation out of the House as it currently stands, so the fewer conservatives and moderates in the House—especially in a district where just four Republicans combined to get just 16 percent in the first round—the better.
Saturday's race also has ramifications beyond this Congress; although Louisiana is about to go through a redistricting cycle, it appears more likely than not that the new map will look fairly similar to the current one, given Louisiana Republicans have openly admitted that they already have about as large of an advantage as they can possibly draw for themselves. And the heavy incumbency advantage means whoever's in the House can basically sit there as long as they want so long as they, say, don't completely ignore their district or vote like it's 1985 or get caught on a hot mic saying something like "If I didn't have a primary I wouldn't care."
Peterson has capitalized on Carter's connection to the GOP, sending mailers in recent weeks connecting Carter to Trump. Carter, unsurprisingly, is denying he's remotely like Trump. “There’s nothing you will find in anything I’ve ever done to support any of the foolishness that my opponent is desperately trying to spread,” he told the New Orleans Advocate last week. “I’m chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.”
But this district is as effectively Democratic-leaning as the ones represented by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Nancy Pelosi. It's not enough to not be Donald Trump. You should also not be Krysten Sinema or Chris Coons. And judging by the support Carter is getting from conservatives, that's exactly what they expect him to be.