Julia Letlow won a special election outright Saturday to represent the 5th Congressional District and will succeed her husband Luke, who captured the seat in December only to die of COVID three weeks later.

Letlow, who becomes the first Republican woman elected from Louisiana to the House, won 65% of the vote, according to complete but unofficial returns.

Letlow, 40, had been heavily favored in a 24-parish district that mostly contains farms and small towns and stretches from Monroe to Alexandria to Opelousas to St. Francisville to Bogalusa in the Florida Parishes.

She had the built-in backing of her husband’s supporters and also had endorsements from former President Donald Trump, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy of California and House minority whip Steve Scalise, who is from Jefferson Parish.

Trump won 64% of the district in November.

Luke Letlow died Dec. 29, only days before he was to take office after winning the congressional race on Dec. 5 with 62% of the vote.

The biggest uncertainty after his death was whether Julia Letlow would set aside her career to be a candidate. She was understandably reeling and focused on comforting their two children, Jeremiah, 3, and Jacqueline, 1.

She had the credentials. With a doctorate from the University of South Florida, she has been a senior administrator at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and was one of the sixth finalists last year to be the new university president.

Julia Letlow announced on Jan. 14 that she would run, “to pick up the torch that my husband left behind,” as she put it later.

No major Republican or Democrat challenged her.

Finishing second in the 12-candidate field was Candy Christophe, a 53-year-old Democrat.

Christophe, a social worker and addiction counselor in Alexandria, won about 27%, according to the complete but unofficial returns.

“We need jobs and affordable health care,” emphasized Christophe, who had the endorsement of the Louisiana Democratic Party.

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She had finished third in last year's November primary.

The district is home to Grambling State University, Louisiana Tech and the University of Louisiana at Monroe and also to Lumen, a Fortune 500 company previously known as CenturyLink. Pentecostal churches dot the district, with a concentration along Interstate 20 in the north.

Culturally, it is more like Arkansas and Mississippi than the let-the-good-times-roll ethos of New Orleans and Acadiana.

Turnout was 21.2%, or slightly higher than the 17-18% projected by the Secretary of State’s Office.

As she campaigned, Julia Letlow emphasized the same issues as her husband — improving education; fixing roads, bridges and sewer systems through a massive federal infrastructure bill; making sure farmers receive the aid they need from the government; and expanding broadband internet service in rural areas.

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Letlow noted that she has slow internet service at her home in Start, a small town in Richland Parish east of Monroe.

As she campaigned, Letlow also spoke openly about her Christian faith and emphasized to the conservative voters that she was anti-abortion and opposed efforts to restrict ownership of guns.

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Letlow said she would have voted against impeaching Trump, and she agreed with the decision of the Louisiana Republican Party’s executive committee to censure U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy for his vote in favor of impeachment. She said she would have voted with fellow Republicans against President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic relief package.

She said she would fight any plans to carve up her district when the Legislature meets later this year to redraw the congressional boundaries.

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Luke Letlow had been well-positioned to run for the seat because he had spent six years as the right-hand man of U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, a Republican doctor who was elected to the seat in 2014, finished third in the 2019 governor’s race and then chose not to seek reelection to the House in 2020.

Email Tyler Bridges at tbridges@theadvocate.com.