Following a bruising and unsuccessful campaign for governor, Rep. Ralph Abraham, a Republican from tiny Richland Parish in northeast Louisiana, announced he would not be seeking a fourth-term in Congress.
“The decision to serve only three terms as a Member of the House is one that I made six years ago,” Abraham stated, telling the press that he was hoping to land a job with the Department of Agriculture, assuming Trump is reelected.
As a consequence of Abraham’s retirement, the Fifth District is currently the state’s only open seat, and on November 3, voters will choose between nine different candidates, four Democrats and five Republicans. Notably, according to the Federal Elections Commission, ten people filed statements of candidacy, but Democrat Brody Pierrotte and John Badger of the “Independent Conservative Democratic Party” didn’t end up qualifying with the state. (Republican Allen Guillory, Sr. of Opelousas qualified as a candidate with the state, but thus far has not filed with the FEC).
Louisiana’s Fifth is a sprawling, illogical mess of a district, stretching from the dominion of Duck Dynasty in Ouachita Parish down into the heart of Cajun Country in St. Landry Parish. If you want to get from one end of the district to the other, the fastest route is through Mississippi.
The Fifth District ranks as one of the ten poorest in the nation; it’s also home to more African Americans than any other district in the country currently held by a Republican, a fact that makes the outcome of this year’s election nearly impossible to predict.
Because of the crowded field, a runoff is all but guaranteed, and because there’s been no publicly available polling, it’s unclear whether the top two candidates are a Republican and a Democrat, if the Democratic candidates are canceling each other out and handing the election to a Republican, or if Republican candidates are handing the election to a Democrat.
The only objective metrics available—the amount of money each candidate has raised and the reach of their following on social media— suggest the contest is between two Republicans: Ralph Abraham’s Chief of Staff, Luke Letlow of Start (the hometown of country music superstar Tim McGraw), and former Chairman of the Louisiana Republican Legislative Delegation, state Rep. Lance Harris of Alexandria.
According to the most recently available campaign finance reports, Letlow is solidly leading the field in fundraising, buoyed right out of the gate with an endorsement from his boss. (Recently, he picked up the endorsement of Rep. Clay Higgins as well).
But even more importantly, he’s also well ahead in the number of donations. Letlow boasts 436 individual contributions. Harris is in a distant second, with 82. At the end of September, Letlow also led the field in cash-on-hand, a total of $341,712, while Harris had $119,605.
In addition, Letlow is ahead of the pack on social media, with 4,900 followers on Facebook an another 1,900 on Twitter. Harris counts 2,300 on Facebook and 1,400 on Twitter, which is slightly fewer than Democratic candidate Martin Lemelle, who has 1,600 followers on Facebook and 2,400 on Twitter.
Scotty Robinson, a Ouachita Parish Police Juror backed by Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, appears to be in third place, at least in terms of fundraising, but that is only because he’s loaned his campaign a total of $88,000.
In early September, Robinson made headlines after posting a Facebook video in which he alleged that supporters of Letlow had attempted to bribe him to withdraw from the race, an accusation that the Letlow campaign called “baseless and desperate” and that he has yet to substantiate.
By the end of September, Robinson was left with a paltry $236 in his campaign account.
Unfortunately for Democrats, there is a distinct possibility that their two leading Democratic candidates, Candy Chrirstophe and Martin Lemelle, cancel one another out, which is what occurred in the 2013 special election when Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo and state Rep. Robert Johnson of Marksville ended up splitting the votes among Democrats and handing the runoff to Republicans Vance McAllister and Neil Riser. (In that race, a third Democratic candidate, state Rep. Marcus Hunter, drew a little under 3% of the vote, which ultimately made no difference in the outcome).
Christophe, a social worker from Alexandria who is running on a pro-second Amendment, anti-choice platform, launched her campaign way back in March of 2019, but recently, she’s had difficulty gaining traction; according to her latest campaign finance report, she’s currently operating in the red, with more than $5,000 in debt.
Lemelle, who hails from St. Landry Parish but works in Lincoln Parish as the Chief Operating Officer of Grambling State University, has had better luck raising money and was recently endorsed by former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, but he entered the race late, making it more challenging to get his message out.
The other two Democrats, retired engineer Philip Snowden of Monroe and Jesse Lagarde of Amite, have both struggled to break through. Although Snowden did earn an endorsement from Mayor Mayo, there’s very little evidence that he is running a competitive campaign.
Due to the sheer size of the district, elections typically hinge on the ability of candidates to consolidate support in either Monroe in the north or Alexandria in the dead center of the state; in recent years, Monroe has proven to be more vote-rich, but not by much. In 2014, the last time a competitive election was held in the district, there were 47,000 votes cast in Ouachita Parish (Monroe) and 44,000 cast in Rapides (Alexandria).
The possibility of a runoff between Letlow and Harris would not only be a worst case scenario for Democrats; it would also spell doom for Harris, who is banking on Republican voters in the northern part of the district splitting their votes between Letlow and Robinson and coasting into a runoff against a weakened Democrat.
Letlow and Harris are running on similar platforms. Among other things, without even a hint of irony, they both pledge to fight against socialism while also doing their utmost to prop up farmers and protect the lumber industry. The primary difference between the two candidates is their tone.
Letlow’s campaign has been largely built on an upbeat, positive message, whereas Harris comes across as an angry if not unhinged.
Compare this ad by Letlow:
To this one by Harris:
His campaign website is filled with similar grievances and not-so-subtle dog whistles about his hostility towards the Black Lives Matter movement and his unflinching support for law enforcement. Harris’ claim to fame, as it were, was his authorship of the nation’s first-ever “Blue Lives Matter” law, which expanded the definition of hate crimes to include crimes against police officers.
If the law were to ever be enforced and then challenged, it almost certainly would be overturned as unconstitutional, as hate crimes apply to acts taken against individuals because of an immutable characteristic (i.e. race) and not their occupation. It’s also unnecessary and redundant, because prosecutors may already ask for heightened sentencing for crimes against police officers.
In other words, the only real beneficiary of Harris’ “Blue Lives Matter” legislation is Harris himself. During this year’s special legislative session, Harris has been championing a similar piece of political performance theater, the “Louisiana Police Funding Protection Act,” which would require municipalities to seek approval from a legislative committee if they intend on reducing police funding by more than 10%. It’s a solution to a problem that exists only on Fox News, and if it becomes law, then, like his “Blue Lives Matter” bill, it’s unlikely to ever be enforced.
With Luke Letlow appearing to be the clear frontrunner, this is a race for second place. Unless Democratic voters quickly consolidate around Lemelle, the only Democrat with money in the bank, a runoff between Letlow and Harris advantages Letlow for a fairly obvious reason: Unlike Lance Harris, he decided not to run his campaign was if the election is a referendum on Black Lives Matter, and in an all-GOP runoff in the Fifth District, the winner is the candidate with the most crossover appeal.