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Luke Letlow wins runoff to succeed his boss, Ralph Abraham, in Louisiana’s 5th District

Letlow defeats state Rep. Lance Harris after contentious all-GOP runoff

Republican Luke Letlow’s campaign touted his family roots in Louisiana’s 5th District as he vied for the seat his boss, Rep. Ralph Abraham, was vacating.
Republican Luke Letlow’s campaign touted his family roots in Louisiana’s 5th District as he vied for the seat his boss, Rep. Ralph Abraham, was vacating. (Screenshot/Facebook/Luke Letlow for Congress)

Luke Letlow, the chief of staff for retiring Louisiana Republican Ralph Abraham, is heading to Congress as his boss’s successor after winning an all-GOP runoff election Saturday for his 5th District seat.

Letlow was leading state Rep. Lance Harris, a leader in the state GOP for decades, 62 percent to 38 percent when The Associated Press called the race at 10:18 p.m. Eastern time.

Letlow’s win capped a contentious runoff campaign in which the two candidates clashed over experience and political style even as they agreed on core conservative policy issues such as support for gun rights and opposition to abortion. 

Letlow, who turns 41 on Sunday, campaigned on his insider knowledge of Washington, while Harris, 59, attacked his opponent for his youth and Washington connections, saying he would bring an outsider’s perspective to the job. 

Abraham has represented the largely rural district along the Arkansas and Mississippi borders since 2014. He decided not to run for a fourth term after an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid.

Letlow told CQ Roll Call he plans to continue Abraham’s focus on agriculture, a major economic driver in the district, targeting regulations on timber and the logging industries. 

“We’ve had far too many useless rules and regulations that have come out of Washington,” he said. 

Letlow touted his rural roots throughout the campaign. He described himself as the only candidate who has to drive down a dirt road to get to his home. He also has deep connections in the state and Washington political circles, where he has spent the majority of his career. 

College Republican leader

Letlow was a leader of the College Republicans, then jumped into campaigning for Republican Bobby Jindal’s 2004 House race. That led to a job as Jindal’s district director, and he transitioned to state government when Jindal was elected governor.

From 2010 to 2014, Letlow worked out of the government affairs shop for QEP Resources, an oil and natural gas exploration company. But then it was back to politics. He managed Abraham’s 2014 campaign, then became his chief of staff.

But Letlow’s political connections opened him to criticism from Harris, a convenience store owner serving his third term in the Louisiana House, who prides himself on his role of keeping fellow Republicans in line in the statehouse and has regularly clashed with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards over spending matters. 

In the November all-party jungle primary, Letlow finished first in a nine-candidate field with 33 percent of the vote, followed by Harris with 17 percent. The remaining candidates split nearly 166,000 votes, or more than Letlow and Harris got combined. Louisiana requires candidates to get more than 50 percent to avoid a runoff.

Letlow had a 2-to-1 fundraising advantage, bringing in with $1.1 million through Nov. 15 to Harris’ $505,000. 

He also had the benefit of $40,000 in ads depicting Harris as a pig who voted to raise taxes while crafting legislation to help his own businesses. Those ads were paid for by a super PAC called Start the Fire, a single-candidate committee that Harris charged was funded almost exclusively by lobbyists. 

Harris, in turn, benefited from $90,000 in television advertising from a super PAC called Stand for Truth that was funded by a $120,000 donation from his state campaign committee, prompting an FEC complaint from the Campaign Legal Center

Paul V. Fontelo contributed to this report.

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