Julia Letlow, a university administrator was elected to Congress Saturday from Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District, after she picked up the mantle for her deceased husband, Luke, who was elected to the House seat in December but died of COVID-19 before he could be sworn into office.
And in the 2nd Congressional District, two veteran state senators from New Orleans, both of them Democrats, will meet in an April 24 run-off election. In a field of 15 candidates, Troy Carter, whose state Senate district includes the westbank of New Orleans, got 36 percent of the vote, and Karen Carter Peterson, whose Senate district includes New Orleans neighborhoods on the opposite side of the river, got 23 percent.
Baton Rouge entrepreneur Gary Chambers, who co-founded an “urban media platform” called The Rouge Collection came close to edging ahead of Peterson and making the runoff himself, winning 21 percent of the vote in his first run for public office. Chambers ran ahead of Peterson on her home turf of Orleans Parish, getting 27 percent of the vote to her 25 percent. Carter beat both of them by winning 39 percent of the vote in the parish.
Peterson beat Chambers on his home turf in East Baton Rouge Parish, winning 35 percent of the vote. Chambers won 33 percent and Carter won 26 percent.
In addition to Orleans and East Baton Rouge, the 2nd Congressional District comprises all or parts of eight other parishes along the Mississippi River. The open seat was held by Cedric Richmond from 2011 to 2021, but Richmond resigned in January to take a position as a White House senior adviser to President Joe Biden. Richmond endorsed Carter.
Letlow, an executive assistant to the president for external affairs and community outreach at the University of Louisiana Monroe, won 65 percent of the vote against 11 other candidates in a sprawling congressional district that covers parts of 28 parishes and includes the cities of Bogalusa, Monroe, Alexandria, Amite and Opelousas.
Sandra “Candy” Christophe, the only Democrat in the race, came in a distant second with 27 percent of the vote.
“This is an incredible moment and it is truly hard to put into words,” Letlow wrote in a statement after her victory Saturday night. “What was born out of the terrible tragedy of losing my husband, Luke, has become my mission in his honor to carry the torch and serve the good people of Louisiana’s 5h District.”
Letlow has described herself as an anti-abortion, pro-gun rights conservative who will fight for farmers and will fight to bring broadband access to a district that’s mostly missing the infrastructure that will let residents get online. She said in Saturday night’s statement that she will “partner with those across the country who can help us capitalize on our district’s strengths and bring real results home to you.”
In the 2nd District, each candidate fought to portray himself or herself as the most progressive. Peterson, the former state chair of the Democratic Party, has been unyielding in her support of abortion rights. Carter has repeatedly sponsored legislation that would end employment discrimination against the LGBT community. Chambers ran on a campaign that demanded reparations for the descendants of enslaved Africans and Medicare for all.
In a speech Saturday night, Carter thanked his supporters and asked them to help him to take the next step: “to go to Washington.”
“We have to work in the area of criminal justice reform, police accountability,” Carter said. “ We have to rethink the way we police and protect our communities. We have to make sure that we create an economy that can truly recover, an economy that will allow people to make much more than a minimum wage, own their own business, to save their businesses, after the horrors of COVID-19. We know that people are struggling. Let me tell you, 2nd Congressional District, I will wake up every single day to fight.”
In a speech to her supporters, Peterson said “a substantial number of voters decided today, that they want bold and courageous leadership. They don’t want the status quo. They want something different.” She said she wasn’t able to reach Chambers before her speech, but she made a direct appeal to his supporters.
“I want to particularly congratulate Gary Chambers, Gary and I were on this journey together, and we have a lot of alignment in values, a lot of alignment in where we stand on the issues that matter most to the people in this district. And I want to tell all of those voters that supported Gary, that supported all the other candidates, that if you want a strong leader, not for the powerful, but someone who’s gonna stand for the people, I got into public service to serve the people. I’m not worried about the powerful.”
Both congressional elections saw low voter turnout. According to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office, 21.2 percent of registered voters participated in the 5th Congressional District election, and 17.9 percent participated in the 2nd Congressional District.