• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Voters in Louisiana head to polls to fill two congressional seats

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Voters in Louisiana are casting their ballots Saturday to fill two open congressional seats. One district was previously held by Cedric Richmond, who now works in the Biden administration. The other was left vacant when former congressman-elect Luke Letlow died from complications from the coronavirus before he could be sworn in. Tyler Pager, a White House reporter for The Washington Post, joined CBSN's Nikki Battiste to discuss the two jungle primaries.

Video Transcript

- Voters in Louisiana are casting their ballots Saturday to fill two open congressional seats. One district was previously held by Democrats, Cedric Richmond. He now works in the White House as a senior advisor to the president. The second seat was left vacant after Republican Luke Letlow died last year from complications from COVID-19.

His widow is running for his seat. Louisiana uses what's known as a jungle primary system. That means all the candidates run on the same ballot, regardless of their political party. If no one receives 50% of the votes, the top two candidates will head to a runoff later this year.

For more, I'm joined now by Tyler Pager. He's a White House reporter for the Washington Post. Tyler, let's start with the district two race to fill Richmond's old seat. He threw his support behind Troy Carter. Tell us a little bit about that campaign.

TYLER PAGER: Yes, SO Troy Carter is a state Senator in Louisiana and he's one of the front runners to advance to the runoff in the 2nd congressional district. The other leading candidate there is Karen Carter Peterson. She is also a state Senator who formerly served as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and has quite a big profile on the national stage.

And that's really what we're looking at in this race, kind of a competition between Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson. They're both expected to head to the runoff, in what is a crowded field. There's 15 candidates running in that race. It is a safe Democratic seat but it's kind of emerged. What's interesting is just how the endorsements have broken down.

Troy Carter, the state senator, has been endorsed obviously, by Cedric Richmond, but also a lot of prominent male Democrats, particularly from the congressional Black caucus. State Senator Karen Carter Peterson has received a lot of endorsements from prominent female Democrats, including Stacy Abrams, Donna Brazile, and female members of Congress.

And so it's interesting to look at how the gender breakdown has emerged in this race, in what is a safe Democratic seat. Both candidates largely agree on the issues but the influence in the district is what's really a test here.

- Tyler, there's been a bit of backlash over Richmond's endorsement. Critics see it as the Biden administration getting directly involved in the race. Does the White House need to worry about any ethics violations?

TYLER PAGER: So the White House has been very clear that since Senator Richmond, has joined the administration is not engaged in any personal politics. Troy Carter has said the same, that Cedric Richmond made this endorsement just before leaving Congress and that in the video that he made endorsing him, he said in my last act as a member of Congress.

But in the district, people have said that the appearance is such that Troy Carter is able to talk about his close connection to someone in the senior role in the White House. Senator Richmond is allowed to be involved in the race in a personal capacity. The Hatch Act is an ethics law that prohibits executive branch employees from engaging in personal politics in an official capacity.

So Richmond could be involved in this race if he wanted to in a personal capacity. The White House has made it very clear that he's not doing that and that all of his involvement ended on inauguration day when he assumed his role as a senior official in the White House.

- Carter's biggest rival appears to be state Senator Karen Carter Peterson. In a recent article you wrote, this. Race has been divided along gender lines. Can you explain?

TYLER PAGER: Yeah. As I mentioned earlier, the endorsements here have really broken down among prominent Democrats at the national level along gender lines. So state Senator Troy Carter has received obviously, the endorsement of Cedric Richmond as well as James Clyburn, Benny Thompson, to members of Congress and close allies of Richmond and Biden.

And and on the other side, Karen Carter Peterson has received the endorsement of a number of female legislators, including Katie Porter from California and prominent national Democrats like Stacey Abrams and Donna Brazile who's from the district in Louisiana. And I think what's interesting to note here is that this is the only district that's likely to be represented by a Democrat in Congress from Louisiana. And so some people in the district that I spoke to in reporting this story said, . They don't want any national figures involved in this race they want this to be focused on the needs of the district and they're worried about nationalizing this race.

But that's been a given, given that this is a seat that is open because Cedric Richmond left to join the White House. It has been nationalized in the sense that there are senior officials in the government that have weighed in on the race.

- Let's touch on the race in district five. That's a safely Republican district. Luke Letlow's widow Julia, is running to take his seat. Former President Donald Trump endorsed her in a statement Saturday morning. What's her political background and where does she stand in this race?

TYLER PAGER: I think the big question for Julia Letlow in this race is whether she gets enough to clear that 50% threshold and win outright, and not move on to a runoff we're expecting a runoff in the second congressional district. It's. A Democratic seat.

But Julie Letlow, the Republican Party has really coalesced behind her. She's obviously running for the seat that her husband had won and then died just before assuming the seat due to COVID. So her challenge here is to clear that 50% threshold.

But in terms of her background, she's someone that has acknowledged that she always wanted to get involved in politics and her husband-- her husband ran and won for this seat and this opportunity tragically presented itself for her. She's involved in the educational space, in the universities, in her district in a senior role there.

And so I think she has a name-- she has name recognition she has experience and the Republican Party quickly coalesced behind her.

- Tyler, what's the likelihood that either of these races heads to a runoff?

TYLER PAGER: So it's very likely, almost certainly in the 2nd congressional district, that safe Democratic seat, that we're headed to a runoff. Political observers expect it to be between Carter and Carter Peterson who are not related. But those are kind of the two front runners here to move on to the runoff.

There's 15 candidates running so it's expected no one will clear. 50% and it remains to be seen today whether or not Letlow clears that 50% threshold. She's likely to be able to do that. If not, the runoff will be mostly a formality as it is a safe Republican district and she will win in the runoff if it heads there.

- Tyler Pager thank you.

TYLER PAGER: Thanks so much for having me.