LA-5: Letlow Wins Runoff

Luke Letlow, Louisiana (LA-5) Republican

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 8, 2020 — Luke Letlow, who had served as chief of staff to Louisiana 5th District incumbent Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-Alto) up until the time he announced his candidacy to replace the retiring congressman, convincingly won Saturday’s double-Republican runoff election to claim the open seat contest as we noted yesterday.

With his victory, Letlow becomes the 212th Republican heading toward the new session of Congress with one campaign uncalled (NY-22) and another being challenged (IA-2). Majority Democrats currently have 222 clinched seats.

Letlow defeated state Rep. Lance Harris (R-Alexandria), 62-38 percent, winning all but one of the district’s 24 parishes. At total of 79,309 voters participated in the runoff election, a 15 percent turnout of the district’s 528,278 registered voters. The Letlow victory margin was just over 19,000 votes.

In the original “blanket primary” election on Nov. 3, Letlow placed first with 33 percent of the vote as compared to Rep. Harris’ 17 percent to create the double Republican secondary election. Harris slipped past Democrat Candy Christophe by 428 votes in the original vote in order to qualify for the runoff and effectively secure the seat for the Republicans. The Nov. 3 election saw a 5th District turnout rate of 70.1 percent.

The “blanket primary” is the phrase Louisianans use to describe the system more commonly described as a “jungle primary.” That is, all candidates appear on the same ballot regardless of political party affiliation and the top two advance into a runoff election if no one receives majority support in the original vote. The Bayou State was the first to adopt this system and originally did so in 1978.

Up until the US Supreme Court’s 1997 ruling that all states must have a general election, Louisianans would elect their federal candidates in a September primary if a candidate received majority support. Therefore, in order to continue their system of potentially electing some of their public officials in one election, Louisiana moved their primary to run concurrently with the national general election date. Doing so allows a candidate the opportunity of winning outright in just one election.

The open 5th District was the only Louisiana CD that required a runoff election, since the other five incumbents won on Nov. 3 with majority support.

Letlow’s election was complete in that he recorded vote percentages between 55 and 78 percent in 23 of the district’s 24 parishes, entities called counties in every other state. The only parish Letlow failed to carry was Rapides, home to Rep. Harris. Harris carried his home turf with a 59-41 percent margin. Because Louisiana elects its state legislators in the odd-numbered years, Harris did not risk his current post in order to make his congressional bid.

The Louisiana delegation will now return to Washington with a 5R – 1D split, but they will soon have a vacancy. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-New Orleans) has already announced that he will resign his congressional seat before Jan. 20 to accept a new position in the Biden Administration.

The congressional vacancy in this district that stretches from New Orleans to Baton Rouge will likely be filled through an election made concurrent with the local election calendar scheduled for March and April. A crowded field is expected in the special election, with the likely scenario culminating in a double-Democratic special runoff vote. The 2nd District is the only CD in the state that is safely Democratic and majority minority.

Rep. Abraham is retiring after serving three terms in office. He originally took a three-term pledge, a promise he kept. In 2019, Dr. Abraham, a physician, was a gubernatorial candidate. He placed third in the field of six candidates, losing the second runoff position to businessman Eddie Rispone. Rispone would then go onto lose the statewide November runoff to Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) in a tight 51-49 percent finish.

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