The runoff Saturday in state Senate District 7 will turn on whether voters like the idea of electing an experienced politician — or the idea of sending one packing.
Both candidates — state Rep. Jeff Arnold and former City Councilman and state legislator Troy Carter — are familiar names in the West Bank district, which encompasses parts of Orleans, Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes. Both are Democrats from Algiers.
The seat opened up this summer when Sen. David Heitmeier announced he would not seek a third term.
Arnold is campaigning on the 13 years he has represented the West Bank in the state House. Barred by term limits from running for his House seat again, Arnold argues his experience means he can hit the ground running in the Senate for what’s expected to be a tough legislative session when lawmakers convene under a new governor next year.
Carter, on the other hand, is playing up his decade-long absence from electoral politics as a plus, suggesting he is the candidate more attuned to the needs of average residents.
At the same time, Carter’s long list of endorsements from New Orleans officials has left room for Arnold to make a case that he — not Carter — is the real political outsider in the race.
Since the Oct. 24 primary, the two candidates have taken opposing stances on Common Core, with Arnold saying he opposes the controversial educational standards and Carter backing them.
Carter led the four-way primary with 37 percent of the ballots cast. Arnold came in second with 33 percent.
In a recent interview, Arnold, a vice president at First NBC Bank, said his opponent has broader political ambitions in mind and lacks the recent experience in Baton Rouge necessary to serve effectively.
“I have dedicated myself to the citizens of the West Bank,” Arnold said. “I do not have any political ambition to be a mayor or a congressman.”
Carter, a management consultant, argued that his time out of office is as good a credential as any, putting him in a position to see how government works for residents.
“The dual perspective of being in office and then being out of office, you kind of get a little different perspective,” he said.
Carter points to his endorsements from Mayor Mitch Landrieu, several members of the New Orleans City Council and political groups including the Independent Women’s Organization, BOLD and COUP.
Arnold has garnered most of his endorsements from the suburbs, including Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, and the mayor, City Council members and police chief in Gretna, among others.
A wedge has opened between the two candidates on the issue of Common Core, which was largely absent from the primary race.
Arnold said he opposes the standards, though he wants to see some sort of method for comparing Louisiana students against others across the country.
“I think it was profit-driven from the start,” Arnold said of the Common Core initiative. “It had the good intention of providing testing across the board, but it was not born of educators; it was born of policy-makers.”
Carter disagreed. “You can’t have it both ways,” he said. “Either you’re for Common Core or you’re not. I think our children need to have a common curriculum.”
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.