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What’s Up in DC: Special Elections Produce a New GOP House Member, and a Hot Runoff Between Two Democrats

A Republican won one Louisianan race, but in the other two Democrats will competing. One is more centrist and touts Biden White House ties; the other’s “unapologetically progressive.”

What’s Up in DC: Special Elections Produce a New GOP House Member, and a Hot Runoff Between Two Democrats
A New Republican Member of Congress

The first special election for an open House seat to be decided in 2021 produced a new Republican member from a very Republican district. Julia Letlow swept to victory Saturday in a race to fill the seat representing Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District, which went vacant when her late husband, Luke Letlow, died from Covid-19 complications following his election last fall. Julia Letlow won 65 percent of the vote in the northeastern Louisiana district, where Donald Trump won by 30 points in November 2020. Democrat Candy Christophe, whose campaign declared that she had “stepped up to the plate and set off to do what others believed to be impossible: become the first black woman to represent the great state of Louisiana,” won 27 percent. In most states, there would be a general election pitting the major party candidates against one another. Under Louisiana law, however, all candidates from all parties run in the same primary and if one gets over 50 percent, that contender is elected. Letlow, who ran with strong backing from Trump, “campaigned on a vow to uphold conservative Christian values and protect unborn children and the right to bear arms.” Like many Louisiana Republicans, however, she showed an openness to federal spending, highlighting support for infrastructure projects—especially those that improve internet access for rural regions of her district and state. Letlow’s election brings the number of Republican women in the House to 31, and it narrows the Democratic advantage on the chamber to 220-212.

The partisan balance is likely to tip in a Democratic direction next month, however, as a Louisiana special election is guaranteed to add a new member to the House Democratic Caucus.

Two Democrats Compete for an Open House Seat Representing New Orleans

The other Louisiana special election on Saturday did not produce an immediate winner, as no candidate finished with over 50 percent. That means that the top two finishers in the state’s overwhelmingly Democratic 2nd district will compete in an April 24 runoff. The winner will be a Democrat, as the top two finishers to replace former Representative Cedric Richmond (now a key aide in the Biden administration) are Democratic state senators Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson. Carter’s close to Richmond, and has the Biden aide’s endorsement. He’s generally considered to be the more centrist candidate in the race, though he would likely join the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Both candidates support Medicare for All, but the split on plans for a Green New Deal—Carter’s not enthusiastic about the plan, while Peterson is. She pitches herself as “unapologetically progressive.”

Carter finished well ahead in Saturday’s initial round of voting in the New Orleans-area district, winning 36 percent to 23 percent for Peterson. But another progressive, Gary Chambers Jr., took 21 percent. So the runoff is expected to be highly competitive. Peterson’s already getting support from a number of national progressives. Stacey Abrams, the voting rights activist and 2018 Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee, is a big backer, saying, “I’m really careful about endorsements, and I have friends that I love, and I’ve got to make different decisions for, but Karen has been in the trenches with me for more than a decade. She has fought with me for more than a decade. She has believed in the power of our people, and she puts her money and her heart where her mouth is.”

And We Now Know the Schedule for Ohio’s Special Election

Now that former Representative Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) has been approved to serve as the Biden administration’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, the runoff schedule has been set to fill her vacant seat representing Ohio’s District 11, where Cleveland is the largest city. The Democrat primary will be held on August 3. The general election is scheduled for November 2. The primary is likely to be decisive, as the district is overwhelmingly Democratic. Among the leading Democratic contenders is former state Senator Nina Turner, a key ally of Senate Budget Committee chair Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who was a top contender for the 2016 and 2020 Democratic presidential nominations. Sanders is backing Turner, as are many other prominent progressives and labor unions such as the Amalgamated Transit Union; the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union; and Bakers Union 19 of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers International Union. Progressive Democrats of America, Justice Democrats, Democracy for America, MoveOn, Our Revolution, and the Working Families Parry are also on board for Turner.