(CNN)The first congressional elections of the 2022 midterm cycle are set for Saturday, when Louisiana voters go to the polls to fill a pair of vacancies in the state’s House delegation.
A Democratic battle is brewing in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge-area 2nd District, pitting two of the state’s top Democrats against each other. The seat opened when former Rep. Cedric Richmond left for a job in President Joe Biden’s White House. Two state senators are the leading candidates: Troy Carter, the state Senate minority leader, has Richmond’s endorsement, while Karen Carter Peterson is backed by Georgia voting rights activist Stacey Abrams and the Bernie Sanders-aligned Our Revolution.
Republican Julia Letlow, the widow of former Congressman-elect Luke Letlow, is running against 11 rivals for the 5th District seat in northeastern Louisiana that her husband won in a December runoff but never got to fill.
There is little doubt about which party will ultimately hold the two seats: the 2nd District is overwhelmingly Democratic, and the 5th District is heavily Republican.
But it’s less clear whether either will choose a winner Saturday, or if — under Louisiana’s all-party primary system, in which the top two finishers advance to a one-on-one showdown if no candidate tops 50% of the vote — one or both races will head to a runoff in April.
In the 2nd District, Carter and Peterson are the best-known candidates in the 15-person field.
Peterson, a former state Democratic Party chairwoman, has run as a progressive by embracing policy positions like the Green New Deal and Medicare-for-all. She has pointed out that Louisiana has never elected a Black woman to Congress.
She also has deep ties to leading establishment Democratic figures, including support from an influential group of veteran Black Democratic operatives: Donna Brazile, Minyon Moore, Leah Daughtry and Yolanda Caraway.
“When women are not at the table and seated, we are typically on the menu,” Carter Peterson told CNN in an interview. “I don’t like that we’ve never had an African American woman serve from Louisiana in our congressional delegation. That needs to end.”
Carter has been more comfortable embracing the establishment banner, casting himself as an effective legislator and touting his endorsement from Richmond, South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, Louisiana teachers’ unions, and the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO.
“For me, it’s never been about issues that make the biggest headlines. It’s about the issues that make the biggest difference in people’s lives,” he said in an ad.
Among the other 13 candidates is activist Gary Chambers Jr., who has also built a following in part stemming from his criticism in June of a Louisiana school board member who defended naming a school after Robert E. Lee — and who then appeared to be online shopping while at a hearing on the topic.
“You sit your arrogant self in here and sit on there shopping while the pain and the hurt of the people of this community is on display because you don’t give a damn and you should resign,” Chambers told the school board member in the hearing.
In the 5th District, national Republicans have worked hard to send the signal that Letlow is their preference.
Her husband, Luke Letlow, was elected to the seat in December but never took office. He died on December 29 after being diagnosed with Covid-19. Two weeks later, Julia Letlow, an administrator at The University of Louisiana Monroe, said she would run for the seat in the special election to replace her late husband.
Former Rep. Ralph Abraham — whose retirement opened the door for his former chief of staff Luke Letlow’s victory in December — opted against running again for his old seat. State Rep. Lance Harris, the second-place finisher to Letlow last year, also stayed out.
And Julia Letlow’s entrance into the race effectively kept other major Republican names out.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the No. 2 House Republican, Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, backed Letlow. So did former President Donald Trump, who called her “a wonderful and talented person.” Former Vice President Mike Pence and the state GOP have also supported Letlow.
Earlier this month, she told ABC that Luke had always encouraged her to run for office if the opportunity presented itself. She said spending so much time on the campaign trail with her late husband had prepared her for the run.
“Listening to the people from every parish and listening to their dreams for their future and their ideas on how to make this region better,” Letlow said. “They stole my heart as I campaigned right along with Luke and so I feel equipped and ready to carry that torch forward.”
The question in Letlow’s race is whether she will be held under 50% of the vote. Sandra “Candy” Christophe is the only Democrat in the 12-person field, and could be in position to benefit if other Republicans siphon votes away from Letlow. Democrats in Louisiana’s 5th District have gotten 30 to 35% support in recent congressional elections there, and matching those numbers against a split GOP field could position Christophe for a runoff.
If Letlow wins, she would increase the record number of Republican women in the House to 31.
CNN’s Jasmine Wright, Annie Grayer and Dan Merica contributed to this report.