Louisiana voters went to the polls on Saturday to fill two empty U.S. House seats in special elections that aren’t expected to shift the political power dynamic, but could add a woman to the state’s all-male congressional delegation.
Women are among the front-runners in both races, including Julia Letlow, a Republican running for the northeast Louisiana seat won by her husband Luke Letlow in December but left vacant due to his death from COVID-19 complications.
Julia Letlow is one of 12 candidates running for the 5th Congressional District seat. She’s running in a deep red district with Donald Trump’s support, the state GOP’s endorsement, and more money raised than all of her opponents combined, raising concerns about whether she’ll be able to win outright without a runoff election on Saturday.
Since Democrat Cedric Richmond took a job as a special advisor to President Joe Biden, the seat representing the New Orleans-based 2nd District is vacant. A total of fifteen candidates are running for a seat in Congress. The top two vote-getters are set to face off in a runoff on April 24.
Saturday’s polls close at 8 p.m.
In Louisiana’s congressional delegation, only three women have ever been elected. Elections for the 2nd and 5th District seats in the off-year could bring that number up to four or five.
Julia Letlow, a higher education administrator from Richland Parish’s small town of Launch, is running for office for the first time. She campaigned on issues close to those posed by her husband during his campaign. She mentions supporting agriculture in the mostly rural district, as well as improving broadband internet connectivity and promoting conservative values.
“I’ve had time to refine a vision for our district, one in which we can work together to raise our neighborhoods out of poverty through employment and opportunity, where our best natural resources and people draw companies to build more jobs right here at home, and where our children aren’t pushed out of state for opportunity,” she said.
According to data filed with the Federal Election Commission, Julia Letlow has earned more than $680,000 for the race since announcing her candidacy in January.
Democrat Sandra “Candy” Christophe, her nearest fundraising rival, raised just under $70,000. Christophe is an Alexandria social worker who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in the fall, losing to Luke Letlow.
The 5th District includes the cities of Alexandria and Monroe, as well as all or parts of 24 parishes.
Several high-profile candidates are running for the 2nd District seat in Baton Rouge, a majority minority district that stretches along the Mississippi River.
State Senators Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson, both from New Orleans, are among the Democrats, as is Gary Chambers Jr., a Baton Rouge Democrat, community organizer, and local publisher who rose to prominence after the 2016 shooting death of Alton Sterling by local cops.
Claston Bernard, a Jamaican-born decathlete who competed in the Olympics, runs a home inspection service, and lives in the Baton Rouge suburbs, is the Republican Party’s nominee.
On policy, the major Democratic candidates have largely agreed, endorsing progressive causes such as increasing the federal minimum wage, improving access to publicly subsidized health care, and supporting “environmental justice” for disadvantaged communities that face greater pollution-related health risks.
Carter and Peterson have largely fought it out in the polls and among the biggest fundraisers. Carter has accused Peterson of drafting education legislation to support her husband’s career, an accusation the Peterson campaign has dismissed as untrue. They exchanged barbs over the Legislature’s missing votes. Each has run for a congressional seat in the past.
Owing to a shortage of advertising funding, Chambers has put a greater emphasis on social media outreach. He’s chastised Carter and Peterson for being career politicians who have done little to alter the state’s course.
Bernard stressed his Christian faith, saying the Republican Party should do more to reach out to Christian Black voters, and condemning government initiatives for failing to bring people out of poverty. However, he faces a major uphill struggle in a district that has generally favored Democrats.