WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, a North Louisiana Republican who came in third during last fall's gubernatorial race, has announced plans to retire from Congress when his current term ends.
"The decision to serve only three terms as a member of the House is one that I made six years ago, but I very much look forward to supporting the president's agenda for the remainder of my tenure in Congress and in other capacities moving forward," Abraham said. He said President Donald J. Trump asked him last month to reconsider and to seek another term.
Abraham, 65, is the 28th Republican to announce plans to leave Congress, instead of seeking re-election this year. Nine Democrats also have said they will retire.
A political newcomer before he won the 5th District race in 2014, Abraham helped oust embattled incumbent Vance McAllister, a Republican who had been caught on video kissing an aide who was not his wife.
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He's won re-election twice with more than 66% of the vote and remained popular in his mostly rural district.
Abraham, a doctor, veterinarian and Air Force veteran, said he decided to run for Congress because he and his wife, Dianne, "feared the direction our country was headed."
"Our national defense had been weakened, our constitutional rights were being challenged, and our economy was in the tank," he said. "Here at home, the people who live in Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District are some of the finest citizens of this country, and we both felt that changes in Washington needed to happen."
A member of the Agriculture and Armed Services committees, the normally soft-spoken Abraham has been a key ally of Trump and frequently traveled with the president to Louisiana.
In December 2018 he announced he would run for governor and began a statewide campaign, but he struggled to raise enough money to fully compete against wealthy Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone for the chance to take on Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards, who went on to win a second term.
The State Police troopers who shadowed him are gone.
During the gubernatorial race, Abraham’s opponents hammered him for missing votes in Congress while he was campaigning. He also faced scrutiny over a pledge he made when he ran in 2014 that he wouldn't collect his congressional salary. He learned after he was elected that Congress' rules restricted how much he could earn from his medical practice while serving so he only honored the pledge his first term without announcing that he would begin taking a salary during his second and third.
A Richland Parish native, Abraham didn't indicate what he might pursue next or if he has any intention of staying in the political arena.
"As I look back over these three terms in Congress, despite significant partisan opposition, I’ve been proud to work for you in helping to 'turn the ship around,'" he said.
Responding to the news that Abraham plans to retire, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, praised Abraham as "a great asset to our country."
"He is a wonderful doctor who went on to serve the people of (his district) well as a member of Congress," Cassidy tweeted. "He will be missed in our delegation."
U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, listed Abraham as being among the “VERY few people that are unconditionally trustworthy in Congress."
"Unfortunately, this place often seems to attract the opposite," he said. "Doc is driven by doing what is right for the people he represents - as our founders intended and his community members expect and deserve. His decision is a major loss to the Congress, the country and Louisianans."
Abraham's district included Alexandria and Monroe, but also extended southward to near Lafayette and into the northern fringe of the Florida Parishes between St. Francisville and Bogalusa.
Abraham is the only member of the Louisiana delegation who has said he won't seek reelection this year. Cassidy recently announced his own 2020 campaign plans, and other members have been fundraising in the run up to the Nov. 3 primary.