Louisiana’s open US House seat draws packed competition

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — An open U.S. House seat representing northeastern and central Louisiana attracted strong interest from candidates, with at least seven contenders signed up for the race Thursday as the state reached the second day of its election registration period.

Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, a doctor from rural Richland Parish, isn’t seeking re-election to a fourth term in the 5th Congressional District, deciding to exit the job after losing the governor’s race last year.

The highest-profile and best-funded candidates vying to fill the vacancy on the Nov. 3 ballot are two Republicans: Luke Letlow, Abraham’s chief of staff from the tiny town of Start, and state Rep. Lance Harris, the former House Republican leader from Alexandria.

Abraham is supporting Letlow, who is championing the popular three-term congressman’s work as his own and touting his experience in Washington as a chief selling point.

“Congressman Abraham set the bar. We have done some great things in office,” Letlow said. “I’m proud of what we accomplished.”

Ouachita Parish Police Juror Scotty Robinson, a Republican real estate investor from West Monroe who is running for the seat, said it’s not appropriate for Letlow to run on Abraham’s achievements.

“He’s not Dr. Abraham,” Robinson said.

Harris suggested experience in Washington, which he described as dysfunctional, wasn’t necessarily a strong credential.

“It’s like a bunch of children running Washington, D.C.,” Harris said. “Most of them have never even worked a day in their life, probably. They have been in politics from Day 1. That’s all they know. And that’s all they do. It’s not real life.”

The largely rural district contains all or part of 24 parishes and the cities of Monroe and Alexandria.

Also in the competition is Martin Lemelle Jr., a Ruston Democrat and chief operating officer at Grambling State University; Sandra “Candy” Christophe, an Alexandria Democrat and social worker; Allen Guillory, an Opelousas Republican; Matt Hasty, a Republican and retired Army veteran from Pineville.

Lemelle, making his first run for an elected office, acknowledged the difficulty launching a campaign and trying to build name recognition amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has upended traditional political tactics. He said he’s focused more on social media, online events and phone calls to reach out to voters.

“We have to be sharp. We have to be nimble,” Lemelle said.

After the presidential competition, top of Louisiana’s fall ballot is the U.S. Senate race. Republican incumbent Bill Cassidy is favored to win a second term, but he’s drawn at least four challengers. Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins, a Democrat with fundraising prowess, was expected to register for the race Thursday — winning enthusiasm from Democrats who worried they wouldn’t have a strong candidate in the competition.

All five of Louisiana’s other incumbent congressmen are seeking reelection: Republican Reps. Steve Scalise, Clay Higgins, Mike Johnson and Garret Graves and Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond. All have drawn challengers.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press

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