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Louisiana special elections draw crowds seeking Richmond and Letlow seats

Julia Letlow one of 12 seeking seat won by her late husband

Crowded fields of candidates filed for March 20 special elections in Louisiana’s 2nd and 5th districts by Friday’s deadline, setting the stage for potential April runoffs in both races. 

Republican Julia Letlow, a University of Louisiana Monroe administrator, has commanded most of the media attention of the 12 candidates in the 5th District race. She announced her bid earlier this month for the seat her husband, Luke J. Letlow, won in a Dec. 5 runoff but never filled because he died of complications from COVID-19 on Dec. 29. 

Julia Letlow, who has never run for office, reportedly has the support of the seat’s most recent occupant, Republican Ralph Abraham, who retired this year after three terms and was Luke J. Letlow’s boss. She told reporters after filing her paperwork Thursday that she wanted to represent her husband’s vision for the largely rural and low-income district and to pass along the couple’s respect for public service to their two children, who are 3 and 1, The Associated Press reported. 

Letlow said she had gotten to know the northeastern and central Louisiana district, which borders Arkansas and Mississippi, while traveling with her husband throughout his campaign. 

“We don’t always get to choose what happens to us. But we do get to choose how to respond,” she said. “Today, I choose to continue to move forward. Today, I choose hope.”

Under Louisiana’s open primary system, all candidates run on the same ballot, regardless of party. If no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff. 

Letlow’s opponents in the all-party 5th District primary include two candidates who were on the ballot against her husband in November: Democrat Sandra “Candy” Christophe, who came in third in that race with 16 percent, and Republican Allen Guillory, who finished fourth with 7 percent. 

Republican state Rep. Lance Harris, Luke J. Letlow’s opponent in the December runoff, opted not to run again.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rated the 5th District race Solid Republican in 2020. But with 40 percent of its voters registered as Democrats, Christophe, the better known of two Democrats in the special election, has a chance of consolidating Democratic support and pushing the race to a runoff, said Louisiana-based political strategist and pollster John M. Couvillon, who has worked for Abraham and both Letlows. 

Letlow has already locked in support from the top two Republicans in the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, the dean of the Louisiana delegation.

“I can’t think of anyone better to carry on Luke’s legacy in representing Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District,” Scalise said in a statement earlier this month.

If she wins, Letlow would be the first Republican woman to represent Louisiana in Congress.

Richmond tries to pick successor

Meanwhile, 15 candidates have filed in the deep-blue 2nd District, which stretches from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. Democratic state Sens. Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson, both of New Orleans, have commanded the most attention after racking up a series of high-profile endorsements. 

Carter, a management consultant who has also served in the state House, has the support of the man he hopes to succeed, Democrat Cedric L. Richmond, who resigned last week for a post in the Biden administration

Carter reportedly touted Richmond’s endorsement as a “tremendous benefit” and compared it to “having the ear of the guy who will have the ear of the president.”

Peterson, a lawyer who also served in the state House and chaired the state Democratic Party, has the backing of Georgia voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, whose national profile was injected with rocket fuel after she was credited with laying the groundwork that delivered her state to the Democrats in the 2020 presidential and Senate elections. 

A win for Peterson would make her the second woman to represent the 2nd District after Democrat Lindy Boggs, who served eight full terms until 1991.  

Gary Chambers, a Democrat and Baton Rouge-based political activist, has also attracted media attention for his bid and claims to a broad donor base. But with the majority of the district’s voters living in New Orleans, he faces a potential disadvantage, Couvillon said. 

Republicans running include Claston Bernard, a Jamaican-born retired Olympic athlete who has written about Black conservatives in American politics. 

Richmond took nearly 64 percent of the vote in November, and in winning six terms since 2010, his average victory margin has been more than 47 points.

Both Carter and Peterson have sought the 2nd District seat before. Carter lost primaries in 2006 and 2008, while Peterson made the general election runoff in 2006, before losing to longtime Democratic incumbent William J. Jefferson.

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