A review of the candidates who qualified for the unfortunately vacant Louisiana Fifth Congressional seat is remarkable but not from the notable persons who jumped into the race, or rather on to the ballot, but where the candidates hailed from.
Of the 13 individuals who qualifed, two do not reside in the Fifth Congressional District (Errol Victor, Sr of Slidell- First Congressional District and Horace Melton, III of Shreveport- Fourth Congressional District).
Unlike state legislative races, congressional seats are creations of the US Constitution and thus the qualifying threshold to run is pretty broad.
Article I, Section 2, paragraph 2 reads as follows: “No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.”
Of the thirteen candidates, only two are Democrats while nine are Republicans with the remaining two unaffiliated.
Yet only one of the nine Republican candidates has a high profile: Julia Letlow, the widow of the late US Representative-elect Luke Letlow who died of COVID-19 complications mere days before he was to be sworn into Congress.
The major Republican challengers to Luke Letlow in the November-December 2020 congressional election (State Representative Lance Harris of Alexandria and Ouachita Parish Police Juror Scotty Robinson of West Monroe) opted against running against Julia Letlow.
Their decisions to skip the March 20th special election is significant as Harris ran second in the November primary with 17% and Robinson finished fifth with 8%. Combined with Luke Letlow’s strong primary showing of 33%, the total vote of the major Republican candidates was 58% with an additional 10% taken by other Republican candidates.
However there are a few dynamics of great significance that are different, as this isn’t November anymore.
First a Democratic candidate failed to make the runoff because their vote was split between four candidates. This time the division is on the Republican side and Democrat Candy Christophe, who barely missed the December runoff by less than 500 votes and is running again in the special, won’t have her base dissected.
Secondly the candidates who qualified are scattered all across the sprawling 24 parish Fifth Congressional District: five from the Florida parishes (SE corner)- counting the Slidell contender, two from the Monroe area (NE corner), two from the Alexandria region (center), and three from St Landry Parish (SW corner).
And don’t forget the guy from Shreveport.
Geographic favoritism might siphon votes off from the two major candidates (Letlow and Christophe), but the Republican splintering will have a far more pronounced effect on Julia Letlow.
And that could be problematic as turnout is the big question.
In the November primary, 309,556 ballots were cast or 68.9% of eligible voters participated in the congressional election yet a month later turnout plummeted to a mere 16%, or 79,307 voters.
A depressed turnout (which played a big role in the loss of both Georgia US Senate seats) and a very divided field on the GOP are unwelcome variables.
Especially since Julia Letlow should be able to win the election in the primary, that is in a normal political climate. And things are certainly not normal right now
Though even if Letlow were to win in the runoff, the seat will remain vacant until after the April runoff, thus depriving the GOP House caucus a badly needed vote with only ten votes being the difference between Democratic control and a Republican takeover.
But more importantly being short a Republican seat gives Nancy Pelosi wiggle room to help vulnerable Democrats in “purple seats” avoid embracing the radical leftist legislative agenda that is soon to be presented.
Even though Democrats had a majority in the US House of Representatives during the first two years of both the Clinton and Obama Administrations, the two presidents struggled to get through their early legislation.
Clinton’s raising of income taxes from 31% to 39.6% was adopted by a two vote margin (essentially one as a flip by a single Democrat would’ve resulted in a tie and killed the bill).
The final version of ObamaCare was adopted by the US House of Representatives by a seven vote margin.
These tight legislative victories came at a dear price for Democrats as the Republicans took control of the Speaker’s gavel in the subsequent mid-term election.
Republicans would be performing a major service to the Democrats by keeping the seat empty for another month and perhaps sparing a few nervous Democratic congressmen an unwelcome political reckoning in 2022.
There is no question that Julia Letlow is the leading Republican candidate for the seat by a country mile: her late husband took it with 62% last month and she will be the only Republican candidate who will have a fully funded campaign that will be able to compete in the myriad of media markets the Fifth District touches.
Under the circumstances of a curiously populated ballot by Republican candidates seeded across the district and the reality of a very low turnout scenario, the GOP would be wise to not extend any unintended yet welcome favors to Speaker Pelosi and deny themselves a vote in the House for an additional month.
It’s time for Republican leaders and voters to get wise to the situation and rally behind Julia Letlow immediately.