Friday’s LA-5 Runoff

Louisiana state Rep. Lance Harris (R-Alexandria) attacks opposing candidate and fellow Republican Luke Letlow over enriching himself during his career in politics.

By Jim Ellis

Monday, Dec. 7, 2020 — The Jan. 5, 2021 Georgia US Senate runoffs are not the only post-election secondary campaign contests, even though they dominate the national political attention since their outcomes will determine the chamber majority. The nation’s other runoff election was scheduled for this past Saturday in northeastern Louisiana for the state’s 5th Congressional District.

A little background on the race: Unlike Georgia, there was no suspense as to which party wins the seat – both Louisiana contenders are Republicans – but the identity of the winning candidate was in question up till Friday.

Luke Letlow finished first on Nov. 3 (33.1 percent) from a field of nine candidates in what is termed a “blanket primary” in Louisiana but a “jungle primary” elsewhere. He also finished first Saturday, Dec. 5. More analysis tomorrow from that. The candidate field Nov. 3 consisted of five Republicans and four Democrats, and Letlow doubled the vote total of his nearest competitor. State Rep. Lance Harris (R-Alexandria) finished second (16.5 percent), qualifying for the runoff by just 428 votes over third-place finisher Candy Christophe, the top Democratic contender.

Letlow is a former chief of staff to retiring Congressman Ralph Abraham (R-Alto), who is honoring a term-limits pledge to only serve three terms. Dr. Abraham was a 2019 Republican gubernatorial candidate, losing the Republican nomination to businessman Eddie Rispone by three percentage points. Rispone would then fall to Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) in the November ’19 runoff on a 51-49 percent count.

Letlow served as Rep. Abraham’s chief during his entire congressional career up until the time he (Letlow) declared his own candidacy. Prior to that, the 2020 top 5th District vote-getter held a position in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration.

Lance Harris is a convenience store chain business owner and farmer who was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2011. He was unopposed in his succeeding re-election campaigns, those in 2015 and 2019.

Harris’ parents were missionaries in China and became prisoners of the Communist regime. They survived captivity and were released, only to be killed in a car accident in 1984 after returning to Louisiana. Harris explains that his parents’ experience drives him to fight socialism, which is why he entered elective politics after establishing his career in business.

While the contest was fairly quiet in the blanket primary, the runoff turned combative. Harris attacked Letlow for his career in politics (see ad at top), citing in his ads that his opponent has made “over $1 million in working for politicians including Bobby Jindal” and then worked as a lobbyist.

Letlow retorted in his paid advertising (above), saying that Harris helped drive the largest tax hike in Louisiana history and supported legislation that would at least indirectly help his own business.

Fundraising had been difficult for all the candidates, but especially in a double Republican runoff when both candidates have established conservative records and histories.

Letlow had raised $1.125 million through the Nov. 15 Federal Election Commission pre-primary reporting deadline. Rep. Harris raised almost exactly half of the Letlow total, $505,000, of which over $119,000 came from a candidate loan.

The 5th District encompasses 20 eastern Louisiana parishes and parts of four others. The largest communities are Monroe, the area made famous through the Duck Dynasty syndicated television show; Alexandria; and Ruston. The district starts at the Arkansas border and moves south all the way to the Louisiana-Mississippi corner and then stretches to the state’s far eastern border.

Though Democrats have a 40.4 – 35.4 percent edge in partisan voter registration over Republicans, the district performs as solid GOP turf as demonstrated by two members of the GOP advancing into this runoff election. President Trump carried the 5th with a 63-34 percent spread in 2016. The 2020 presidential vote by congressional district has not yet been published for Louisiana.

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