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Richmond move to White House will further trim Democratic majority for a few months

Crowded field would likely mean April runoff for deep-blue Louisiana seat

Louisiana Rep. Cedric L. Richmond will head the Office of Public Engagement in the incoming Biden administration.
Louisiana Rep. Cedric L. Richmond will head the Office of Public Engagement in the incoming Biden administration. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President-elect Joe Biden’s choice of Rep. Cedric L. Richmond to join his administration will leave House Democrats for several months with one fewer seat in an already-thinning majority, as Louisiana voters choose from what will likely be a crowded field for his deep-blue seat. 

Richmond told reporters at a news conference Tuesday that he would resign before Jan. 20, when Biden is sworn into office, and that he would be serving as senior adviser to Biden and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. While a dozen races still remain uncalled, Democrats are expected to maintain their majority in the House — but by just a handful of members at best.

The Biden team’s announcement of his appointment noted that Richmond, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, had helped enact laws overhauling the criminal justice system. The post he’s assuming likely gives him a role in building support for the administration’s initiatives. In the Obama administration, for example, Valerie Jarrett ran the office and worked to build coalitions on such priorities as battling sexual assault, raising the minimum wage and improving early childhood education.

Richmond stressed that he would not leave his home state behind.

“When you talk about the needs of Louisiana, you want someone in the West Wing,” he said.

Richmond was among the first House members to endorse Biden’s candidacy in April 2019, and he was named a national co-chairman of the campaign the following month.  He also is a close friend of House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, whose endorsement of Biden ahead of the presidential primary in his home state of South Carolina gave the campaign a boost after disappointments earlier in the primary season.

Those factors led to speculation that Richmond would be an obvious choice for Biden, who has pledged to appoint a diverse team that looks “like America.”

The possibility also spurred weeks of speculation about who would vie to succeed Richmond in the 2nd District, which was drawn to favor Democrats and includes New Orleans and parts of Baton Rouge. 

Louisiana is a state with few opportunities for ambitious Democrats in municipal and state-level government to ascend to higher positions, so the open House seat is expected to draw a large field. Richmond’s successor would be chosen in a special election, possibly in March,  depending on the timing of his resignation. A crowded field would likely result in no one getting more than 50 percent of the vote, so an April runoff would pit the top two vote-getters. 

Karen Carter Peterson, a state senator and former state Democratic Party chairwoman, had filed paperwork indicating her intent to run Tuesday afternoon. Other potential contenders include New Orleans state Sen. Troy Carter, New Orleans City Councilmember Helena Moreno, state Sen. Cleo Fields of Baton Rouge and Public Service Commissioner Lambert Boissiere, according to local strategists and published reports. Peterson, Carter and Moreno have run for the 2nd District seat before. Fields served two terms in the House in the 1990s, representing a district that stretched from Shreveport to Baton Rouge.

Richmond took nearly 64 percent of the vote on Nov. 3, and in winning six terms since 2010, his average victory margin has been more than 47 points.

Richmond signaled Tuesday he could endorse a potential successor, noting he will talk with the candidates interested in running to ensure they understand the responsibilities that come with serving in Congress, particularly the importance of constituent services.

“I will play an active role,” he said. 

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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