BATON ROUGE -- Republican Julia Letlow won a Saturday special election for the northeast Louisiana-based U.S. House seat that her husband, Luke, couldn't fill because of his death from complications related to covid-19.
With the victory, Julia Letlow becomes the third woman ever elected to the U.S. House from Louisiana, the first Republican woman elected to Congress from the state and the only woman among its current congressional delegation.
She topped 11 other contenders to capture the 5th District seat in the primary.
Farther south, the race to fill a second vacant U.S. House seat for Louisiana was headed to an April 24 runoff.
Democratic state Sens. Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson (not related) will advance to a runoff that will determine who represents a heavily Democratic seat in a Black-majority district that stretches from New Orleans along the Mississippi River to Baton Rouge.
With 98% of precincts reporting in a notably light turnout, Carter was winning 36% of the vote, while Peterson claimed 23% in a 15-person field.
In Louisiana, all candidates regardless of party compete against one another in the primary. If no candidate tops 50% of the vote, a runoff election is held between the top two vote-getters.
Letlow ran in her deep red district with the backing of former President Donald Trump, the endorsement of the state GOP and more money raised than all her competitors combined. It was the first bid for elected office by the higher education administrator who lives in the small town of Start in Richland Parish.
She ran on issues similar to those that her husband discussed during his campaign. She talked of supporting agriculture in the largely rural district, expanding broadband internet access and supporting conservative values.
"I've had time to refine a vision for our district, one where we can work together to uplift our communities out of poverty through jobs and opportunity, where the best natural resources and the best people attract businesses to create more jobs right here at home, where our children aren't forced out of state for opportunity," she said.
Luke Letlow died Dec. 29, only days before he was scheduled to be sworn into office. His wife announced her candidacy in January, a move that sidelined other high-profile Republicans who had expressed interest in the seat.
Julia Letlow raised more than $680,000 for the race, according to data filed with the Federal Election Commission. Her closest fundraising competitor, Democrat Sandra "Candy" Christophe, brought in $75,000. Christophe is a social worker from Alexandria who also ran unsuccessfully against Luke Letlow.
The 5th District covers all or part of 24 parishes, including the cities of Alexandria and Monroe.
In the 2nd District, Carter and Peterson, the highest fundraisers in the race, are both veteran politicians and have roots in the competing and fractious Black political factions of New Orleans. Both have also run for this seat before -- both of them in 2006, and Carter again in 2008 -- without success.
But when the district's 10-year House veteran, Democrat Cedric Richmond, resigned to take a job as a special adviser to President Joe Biden, it gave Carter and Peterson a new chance to fulfill their long-standing ambition.
As with many New Orleans elections, the contest quickly became a proxy fight. When another local ally of his decided not to run, Richmond quickly backed Carter in hopes of blocking his rival, Peterson.
Recognizing the popularity and clout of his patron in the West Wing, Carter has sought to capitalize on Richmond's endorsement. "I would have the ear of the guy who has the ear of the president of the United States of America," Carter said.
In response, Peterson has sought to run to the left, portraying herself as an anti-establishment Democrat even as she trumpets her role as a former state party chair and her numerous national endorsements.
Carter accused Peterson of crafting education legislation to benefit her husband's career, an allegation the Peterson campaign called offensive and deceptive. They also traded criticism about missed votes in the Legislature.
Information for this article was contributed by Melinda Deslatte of The Associated Press and Jonathan Martin of The New York Times.