Julia Letlow made history Saturday as the first Republican woman elected to Congress from Louisiana, replacing her late husband who died from complications related to COVID-19.
Letlow, a 40-year-old university administrator who wrote a doctoral dissertation on grief, easily won against 11 other contenders in the race for Louisiana's 5th Congressional District seat. She is the third woman ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Louisiana and the only woman among the state's current congressional delegation.
"This is an incredible moment and it is truly hard to put into words," Letlow said in a statement Saturday night. "What was born out of the terrible tragedy of losing my husband, Luke, has become my mission in his honor to carry the torch and serve the good people of Louisiana's 5th District."
Luke Letlow, a longtime Republican aide, won the election in an all-GOP runoff late last year. But he was hospitalized with COVID-19 in mid-December and died at the age of 41 on Dec. 29, just days before he was set to be sworn into office. Julia Letlow announced her candidacy in January, after Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards called a special election to fill the seat that her late husband was never able to hold.
"This is a proud day for Julia, her children, all of her supporters, and our state, but it is also a bittersweet day as she wins the seat opened by the passing of her late husband, Luke," Edwards said in a statement Saturday night. "I will continue to keep her in my prayers just as she has continued to exemplify strength, determination, and tenacity in the wake of a terrible tragedy. I know that these same characteristics that got her through the last few months will make her an excellent advocate for Louisiana in Washington, D.C."
It was the first bid for elected office by Letlow, who lives with her two young children in the small town of Start in northern Louisiana's Richland Parish. With a number of prominent Republicans rallying behind her, including former President Donald Trump, Letlow ran in her deep red district on issues that her late husband also cared about. Describing herself as a devout Christian, she spoke of upholding conservative values, supporting agriculture and improving infrastructure in the largely rural district.
By the end of February, Letlow had raised nearly $700,000, almost 10 times what the next-closest contender had collected, according to data filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Letlow, who currently serves as the executive assistant to the president for external relations and community outreach at the University of Louisiana in Monroe, will avoid a runoff because she secured a majority of the vote among the 12-person field.
"I will be a servant to the people of this district and to be present across the 24 parishes. I will listen more than I speak and seek to find solutions to our region's challenges," she said. "From tonight forward, I work for you and it is an honor to do so."