Julia Letlow (copy)

Julia Letlow on Thursday filed for the 5th congressional district seat in north Louisiana that her husband Luke won last year before he died of complications from COVID-19.  

The widow of the late U. S. Rep.-elect Luke Letlow on Thursday filed for the north Louisiana congressional seat her husband won handily in December before dying of complications from COVID-19.

Julia Letlow, a Republican and a top official at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, entered the race for the 5th congressional district at the outset of the second day of filing.

"I know that two things can be true at the same time," she said. "A person can be both full of grief while also having hope for the future."

"Today I pick up the torch and share this journey."

The post, and an open seat for the 2nd congressional seat formerly held by Democrat Cedric Richmond, are at stake in the March 20 primary.

Early voting begins March 6. Any runoffs will be held on April 24.

Filing ends on Friday at 4:30 p.m.

Letlow, 41, is ombudsperson and special projects coordinator for the University of Louisiana at Monroe Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, where she also has contributed to the development of the university's strategic plan.

Before that, she worked at the Tulane University School of Medicine as the director of education, director of resident patient safety and quality improvement and a clinical instructor of anesthesiology.

She said she has taken a leave from her ULM job to conduct her campaign.

Letlow is a native of Monroe and lives in Start, La., which is about 15 miles east of Monroe.

The 5th District is a mostly rural area that encompasses 24 parishes and extends from Bastrop in the far northeast of Louisiana through Alexandria to Opelousas, then east past St. Francisville through much of the Florida parishes to Bogalusa.

She said she traveled throughout the district with her late husband and that jobs and expanded internet access are among her top campaign priorities.

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The 5th district seat has been held by Republican Ralph Abraham, who opted not to seek re-election.

Luke Letlow, a top aide for Abraham, easily defeated fellow Republican Lance Harris in a December runoff before contracting the coronavirus.

He died a few weeks later at the age of 41, leaving behind two children ages 3 and 1.

Julia Letlow waved away any thought that her candidacy is unfair to her children.

"It is because of them that I am running," she said. "I hope to illustrate for them the power of fortitude, resilience and perseverance."

Letlow said that, while she has not waged a campaign for herself since she ran for sixth grade president, she and her late husband talked about the possibility of her seeking office someday.

"This is something that I had many conversations with Luke about," she said. "Public service has always been a dream of mine. It was a shared dream of ours."

Letlow said she and her husband knew that she would "take the leap of faith" if an opportunity presented itself.

"I now know that we don't always get to choose what happens to us," Letlow said. "But we do get to choose how to respond. Today I choose to continue forward. Today I choose hope."

Five other candidates -- four Republicans and one Democrat -- filed for the 5th congressional seat Wednesday. Republican Errol Victor Sr. a Slidell Republican, did so Thursday.

Seven more contenders entered the 2nd congressional district race Thursday.

They are Belden "Noonie Man" Batiste, no party, New Orleans; Greg Lirette, Republican, New Orleans; Desiree Ontiveros, Democrat, New Orleans; J. Christopher Johnson, a Democrat who lives in Gretna; Lloyd M. Kelly, a New Orleans Democrat; Chelsea Ardoin, a New Orleans Republican and Claston Bernard, a Gonzales Republican.

In total, twelve candidates have now filed for Richmond's former congressional seat.

Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.