March 23, 2021 — The two Louisiana special elections turned out as expected on Saturday night but with a slight surprise.
Julia Letlow (R), the widow of Rep-Elect Luke Letlow (R), who passed away at the end of last year, easily won the 5th District special election. Her 65 percent outright win over a field of 11 opponents will allow her to assume the office that her husband won in early December but who died from the effects of COVID and heart disease before the new Congress convened.
In the New Orleans-Baton Rouge 2nd District, vacated when Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-New Orleans) resigned from the House to accept a position in the Biden Administration, two Democrats will advance to an April 24 runoff election. Both outcomes were expected, but the margin for second place in the 2nd District was much closer than anticipated.
Letlow had the support of the entire Republican hierarchy while running in a GOP district, from former President Trump and former Vice President Pence, to Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), and the Louisiana Republican Party. She also had a huge campaign resource advantage and was expected to exceed the 50 percent mark to win outright. The second-place finisher, Democrat Candy Christophe, fell way back to 27 percent of the vote. No other candidate even exceeded the five percent mark.
Turnout was relatively strong, with 103,609 people voting in the Saturday special election and during early voting. In the pre-election day balloting, Letlow captured 59 percent support, meaning she performed much better in Election Day voting. The total exceeded the Dec. 5 runoff vote that elected Letlow. In that election, 79,306 people voted.
In parish voting, Letlow won 23 of the district’s 24 local parishes, called counties in every other state. The only one she lost, and by just one percentage point, was East Feliciana Parish, but the total vote cast was only from 1,517 individuals. She carried 18 of the 24 parishes with majority support and reached or exceeded the 70 percent threshold in eight localities.
The 2nd District turned into a close affair for the second qualifying runoff position. As predicted, state Sens. Troy Carter (D-New Orleans) and Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) will advance to the April 24th runoff election, but the final result was not as clear cut as originally predicted.
While Sen. Carter easily captured first place with 36 percent of the overall vote after recording 47 percent in early voting, the battle for second place was decided by just over a percentage point and one-half. Sen. Peterson topped Baton Rouge community activist Gary Chambers, Jr. (D) by 1,519 votes among the 94,546 ballots cast districtwide.
Sen. Peterson claimed the second qualifying position with a 22.9 – 21.3 percent margin after leading Chambers 27-11 percent in early voting. A total of 31,109 people voted early, or almost exactly one-third of the total ballots cast. In the 5th District, 36,462 voters cast early ballots, or 35.2 percent of the special election total.
Chambers made a strong move in Election Day voting but failed to dominate in his home Baton Rouge precincts. Conversely, Sen. Peterson actually fell behind Chambers in Orleans Parish, which is home to both she and Sen. Carter.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was Chambers being able to place second in Orleans Parish even when finishing a distant third there in early voting. Equally unanticipated, Sen. Peterson won the East Baton Rouge Parish vote with a 35-33-26 percent margin over Chambers and Sen. Carter. It was surprising that both Chambers and Sen. Peterson underperformed in their home areas. Furthermore, Sen. Peterson greatly exceeding projections in the Baton Rouge area proved largely responsible for her being able to barely secure a runoff position.
With two Democrats advancing into the 2nd District runoff election, obviously the party will hold the seat regardless of who wins on April 24. With the Republicans winning the 5th District in the person of Letlow, the House will for about a month break 219D-212R. Once the 2nd District is officially decided in April, the partisan division will increase to 220D-212R.
The three remaining vacant seats are in special election cycle and all have voting calendars ranging from final elections on June 1 all the way to Nov. 2. Two of the remaining seats break solidly Democratic (NM-1, OH-11), with one leaning Republican (TX-6).