BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — An open U.S. House seat representing northeastern and central Louisiana attracted strong interest from candidates, with seven contenders signed up for the race Thursday as the state closed the second day of its election registration period.
In Louisiana’s U.S. Senate race, 10 contenders registered to challenge Republican incumbent Bill Cassidy, with Democratic Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins officially adding his name to the ballot a day after launching his campaign.
While most of the state’s congressional incumbents are running to hang onto their seats, there’s a free-for-all for the lone vacancy in the 5th Congressional District. Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, a doctor from rural Richland Parish, decided against running for a fourth term after losing the governor’s race last year.
The highest-profile and best-funded candidates vying to fill the open 5th District seat 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. Cassidy is favored to win a second term, but he’s drawn multiple challengers. The 34-year-old Perkins — an up-and-coming mayor with a West Point education, Harvard law degree and military service in Iraq and Afghanistan — was winning enthusiasm from Democrats who had worried they wouldn’t have a strong candidate in the competition.
After he signed up for the race Thursday, Perkins acknowledged his late entrance in the campaign cycle and said he had no intentions to run until the coronavirus outbreak. He said Congress, and the Republican Senate in particular, has done too little to help families struggling in the pandemic.
“The working class families are calling for help from D.C., and we are not getting it at this particular moment,” Perkins said. “So, I understand the odds, but we cannot afford to give Sen. Cassidy another chance.”
Also registering for the Senate race Thursday was high school math teacher Peter Wenstrup, a New Orleans Democrat who cited the coronavirus’ impact on his decision to run for his first office.
“Small business owners, nurses, teachers, food service employees and supply chain workers have improvised to find real solutions. It’s about time we elect leaders who understand this,” Wenstrup said.
Cassidy planned to qualify for his re-election bid Friday.
In addition to Cassidy, five of Louisiana’s 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.