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Progressive candidate Gary Chambers launches bid to unseat John Kennedy in U.S. Senate

Gary Chambers' Facebook Page

Gary Chambers Jr., the progressive Baton Rouge activist who made waves in a 2021 congressional race, announced Tuesday that he is running to unseat U.S. Sen. John Kennedy in this fall’s open primary.

Chambers is the second Democrat to join the race and stands in stark contrast to Republican incumbent Kennedy, who is running for re-election with the support of former President Donald Trump, and fellow Democrat Luke Mixon, who has staked out a more moderate political position.

“In a state that ranks in the bottom five for almost everything — 46th in healthcare, 47th in infrastructure and the economy, 48th in education and opportunity, 49th for the environment and 50th in crime — Louisiana is long overdue for a new vision and stronger leadership,” Chambers said in a video launching his campaign.

Chambers has long been aligned with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. He has vocally supported the Green New Deal, Medicare for All and a $15-per-hour minimum wage.

In recent months, he has been an advocate for President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which has stalled in Congress but would greatly expand the Child Tax credit, provide free early childhood education and devote billions of dollars to combating climate change while raising corporate taxes.

Chambers made his name in Baton Rouge as a fierce advocate for the low-income and predominantly Black communities in North Baton Rouge. His fiery public testimony at East Baton Rouge Metro Council and parish school board meetings and criticism of local elected officials frequently grabbed headlines.

His 2020 confrontation with an East Baton Rouge Parish school board member who was caught online shopping during a discussion about removing a Confederate general’s name from a local high school went viral, catapulting Chambers to national prominence.

Chambers leveraged that viral moment into a robust social media following and built a broad base of support among progressives across the country. He tapped into the support when he ran to replace longtime U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond in Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District last year after Richmond was selected to serve as Biden’s senior advisor.

Chambers defied expectations throughout the race, raising more than $400,000 for his campaign — a total commensurate with the fundraising hauls of his more established opponents.

He earned 21% in March’s open primary, finishing third behind the eventual winner, Rep. Troy Carter, and state Senator Karen Carter Peterson.

His only previous attempt to win public office came in a 2019 state senate race. He lost to Democratic incumbent Regina Barrow, earning only 26% of the vote.

Paul Braun was WRKF's Capitol Access reporter, from 2019 through 2023.