Troy Carter led the field but will face Karen Carter Peterson in a runoff after the two Democratic state senators from New Orleans won the top two spots Saturday in a congressional district that stretches from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.

Unofficial but complete returns showed Carter with 36% and Peterson with 23%.

The winner will replace Cedric Richmond.

Gary Chambers Jr., a Baton Rouge activist and advocate fell just short of making the runoff with 21%, or about 1,550 votes behind Peterson. Businessman Claston Bernard, who had the Louisiana Republican Party endorsement, finished fourth with 10%.

The unofficial turnout was 17.9%, or just about what the Secretary of State's office predicted.

Saturday’s result sets up an April 24 runoff between two candidates who generally vote the same way. But Carter is aligned with Richmond, who endorsed him and vacated the seat to be a senior adviser to President Joe Biden and represents a more moderate brand of Democrat.

Peterson, 51, is aligned with progressive women in the Democratic Party, most notably Stacey Abrams in Georgia, and took more aggressive stands than Carter on some issues.

Carter, 57, has a reputation for working more amicably with his colleagues than does Peterson, and he emphasized that throughout the race.

Thanks to his good relationships with others, Carter won a long line of endorsements from local current and former elected officials, including state Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge; Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng, a Republican; former state Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego; and New Orleans City Council President Helena Moreno, a Democrat.

The Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO also endorsed Carter, and that generated thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from unions.

Peterson’s campaign relied more on out-of-state help thanks to national relationships she built in Washington as chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party and as a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Peterson won a number of endorsements from Democratic female members of Congress, and also support from three former chairs of the DNC: Howard Dean, Thomas Perez and Donna Brazile, who is originally from Kenner.

EMILY’s List, which aims to elect pro-choice female Democrats, spent nearly as much as Peterson in the primary, with a pro-Peterson television ad and mailers that attacked Carter, even though he, too, is pro-choice.

Peterson has been close to New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, but the mayor stayed out of the race. Maggie Carroll, a political adviser to Cantrell, didn't respond to an email Friday asking why she hasn't supported a candidate.

In a sign of Peterson's weakness Saturday, Chambers led her in Orleans Parish.

Carter and Peterson both expressed support for increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour, for the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion economic relief package, for impeaching President Donald Trump and for ensuring that COVID vaccines are made available to the poor.

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Peterson and Chambers endorsed the Green New Deal — the district includes the so-called "Cancer Alley" industrial corridor in the River Parishes — and efforts to accelerate the move away from fossil fuels. Carter more cautiously supports “the framework” of the Green New Deal.

Chambers, 35, had run for office only once before — he failed to unseat state Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, in 2019 — but was hoping to harness a huge social media following that he acquired after challenging East Baton Rouge Parish School Board member Connie Bernard for shopping online during an impassioned board discussion on the renaming of Lee High School, named after the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Claston Bernard was banking on his conservative message of self-reliance, his unique status as a Black conservative and his star power as a two-time Olympic decathlete. Only 12% of the district is Republican.

In all, the race featured 15 candidates, including eight Democrats, four Republicans, two independents and one Libertarian, Mindy McConnell.

Carter raised the most of any candidate — $1.07 million through Thursday — followed by Peterson, Chambers, Bernard and Desiree Ontiveros, who owns Badass Balloon Co. in New Orleans. But the spending by EMILY’s List to help Peterson meant that their combined efforts outspent Carter.

The top two candidates will face off in a district that is one of the poorest in the country. It is mostly based in Democratic areas of metro New Orleans. About 44% of the voters live in New Orleans, 24% in Jefferson Parish (mostly on the west bank), 20% in the River Parishes and 12% in Baton Rouge, according to an analysis by John Couvillon, a Baton Rouge-based pollster and demographer.

A Republican-majority state Legislature drew the 2nd Congressional District a decade ago to be the only one that would favor electing a Democrat. Richmond, who first won the seat in 2010, kept winning reelection every two years through 2020 without a serious challenge. A senior adviser to Biden during the presidential campaign, he was rewarded with a plum White House post. He resigned on Jan. 15 to head the Biden administration’s Office of Public Engagement.

Reflecting its strong Democratic tilt, Biden won 75% of the district in 2020. About 61% of the voters are Black.

The campaign generated few fireworks as the candidates mostly campaigned by speaking to different interest or neighborhood groups nearly every night via Zoom.

WDSU-TV broadcast the only televised debate during the campaign on Wednesday, featuring Peterson and Chambers. Carter pulled out, saying he didn’t want to participate unless the station included other candidates in the 30-minute event.

One only-in-New Orleans moment occurred during the campaign when a Mardi Gras Indian accused a former king of the Zulu Pleasure and Social Club of trying to force him out of the race.

Belden Batiste, a political independent and flag boy in the Yellow Pocahontas of the Mardi Gras Indians known as "Noonie Man," said in February that New Orleans City Councilman Jay Banks visited him at his house uninvited and warned Batiste to drop out. At every opportunity, Batiste had been blasting Peterson, who, like Banks, is a member of the BOLD political organization. Banks denied threatening Batiste and said he went only to help Batiste.

Email Tyler Bridges at