The Late Luke Letlow’s Widow to Run

By Jim Ellis

Late last week, Julia Letlow (above), widow of late Louisiana Republican Rep.-Elect Luke Letlow, announced that she will run for her late husband’s seat, issuing a statement saying she wants to “ … continue the mission Luke started.” Luke Letlow, 41, passed away Dec. 29, 2020 from a heart attack while battling COVID-19.

Jan. 18, 2021 — On Dec. 5, former congressional chief of staff Luke Letlow (R) won a big election victory, scoring a 62-38 percent Louisiana runoff victory to secure the 5th Congressional District seat and replace his retiring boss, retiring Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-Alto). Just 24 days later and before even being sworn into the House, Letlow, 41, tragically passed away from cardiac arrest after contracting COVID-19.

Late last week, his widow, Julia Letlow, issued a statement saying she wants to “ … continue the mission Luke started — to stand up for our Christian values, to fight for our rural agricultural communities and to deliver real results to move our state forward.” The comments were part of her announcement declaring her own candidacy for the 5th District special election to replace her late husband.

Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) has scheduled both the vacant 2nd District (Rep. Cedric Richmond-D has accepted a position in the Biden Administration and officially resigned from the House last Friday) and the 5th CD special elections for March 20, with a runoff on April 24 should no one receive majority support in the first vote. The candidate filing deadline for both seats is a week from today, Jan. 22.

So far, the LA-5 candidate field has been slow to form largely in anticipation of Julia Letlow becoming a contender. At this point, Democrat Candy Christophe, who missed qualifying for the regular election runoff by just 428 votes, is an announced special election candidate. The only other currently declared contender is frequent GOP candidate Allen Guillory. State Rep. Lance Harris (R-Alexandria), who qualified for the regular runoff election and lost to Luke Letlow, has not yet indicated whether he will enter the special election campaign.

Obviously, at this point, Julia Letlow is the favorite to capture the seat her husband easily won. He topped a field of eight other candidates with 33 percent of the vote and secured the first runoff position. He outpaced Harris, the second-place finisher, by 16 percentage points, almost exactly 50,000 votes. In the runoff, Letlow carried 23 of the 24 parishes, all but Harris’ home of Rapides Parish, the district’s largest local entity that the city of Alexandria anchors.

Louisiana’s 5th CD is securely Republican. While the presidential vote divided into Louisiana congressional districts is not yet available, President Trump scored a 63-34 percent victory in the district back in 2016, and Mitt Romney secured a 61-38 percent margin four years prior. In the 2020 statewide Louisiana vote, President Trump outperformed President-Elect Joe Biden, 58-40 percent.

In his three victorious congressional races, Rep. Abraham averaged 70.8 percent of the vote including avoiding runoff elections in 2016 and 2018. The district hasn’t had sustained Democratic representation since former Rep. Jerry Huckaby’s tenure that stretched from 1977 to 1993 concluded. Rodney Alexander won the seat as a Democrat in 2002, but switched to the Republican Party before the 2004 election and served the remainder of his 12-year tenure as a member of the GOP.

The 5th District occupies the northeast corner of the state, beginning at the Arkansas border, and then follows the western Mississippi border all the way to the point that the Magnolia State turns due east and ends where their panhandle region begins to feed into the Gulf of Mexico. Northeast Louisiana was made famous by the Duck Dynasty television show, the location of the Robertson family business.

Much more will be known once candidate filing concludes this week. It is probable that Julia Letlow’s candidacy will freeze others out, thus giving her a relatively easy run into the House.

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