Luke Letlow and Lance Harris

Lance Harris (left) and Luke Letlow (right)

Luke Letlow, who served as the top aide to outgoing U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, easily won the election Saturday to replace Abraham to represent the sprawling 5th Congressional District.

Letlow defeated state Rep. Lance Harris, of Alexandria, winning 49,182 votes or about 62% of the 79,306 cast. Harris received 30,124 or 38% of the votes cast, according to complete but unofficial returns from the Secretary of State's Office.

The runoff election gave voters the choice between two Republican candidates who differed little on the issues but who differed greatly in style.

Letlow played up his support from Abraham and also noted that he had the endorsement of 21 of the district’s 24 sheriffs. He also had outraised Harris, $1.2 million to $500,000, through Nov. 15, the latest campaign finance period.

Only 15% of voters turned out in the election, the last to be held in the country thanks to Louisiana’s unique election system in which the November general election served as the primary for congressional races. Letlow led the nine-candidate field in the Nov. 3 primary, with Harris winning 16.5% of the vote, barely enough to also advance to the runoff.

Letlow, 40, will represent a mostly rural district that encompasses 24 parishes and extends from Bastrop in northeast Louisiana through Bunkie, south of Alexandria, to Opelousas, north of Lafayette, east past St. Francisville over to Bogalusa in the Florida Parishes.

Letlow knows the district well having served as Abraham’s chief of staff from the congressman’s 2014 election until Letlow resigned in March to run for the seat. Letlow lives in Start, east of Monroe, which along with Alexandria is one of the district’s two urban centers.

It is the second poorest congressional district in the country.

During the campaign, Letlow touted his insider knowledge of government from his work as an aide to Abraham and to Bobby Jindal, when Jindal served as governor and as a congressman. Letlow said he would use that knowledge to work with Republicans, Democrats and government bureaucrats to win federal aid for the district.

The scoop on state politics in your inbox

Get the Louisiana politics insider details once a week from us. Sign up today.

Harris, who owns eight convenience stores and a pecan orchard in central Louisiana, said he would use his business know-how to be an effective congressman while promising to use his “outsider” status to challenge unspecified “Washington” interests.

The two men attacked each other in TV ads during the runoff.

Harris went negative first, accusing Letlow of being a political insider who has done nothing more than claim paychecks paid by taxpayers.

Letlow hit back a day later against Harris, accusing him of being a career politician, although Harris has served only nine years in his part-time job in the state House.

Letlow’s ad also says Harris helped pass “the largest tax hike in Louisiana history.”

That referred to a 27-month 1-cent increase in the state sales tax approved in 2016 by a bipartisan group of legislators at the behest of Gov. John Bel Edwards to close the budget gap that Edwards inherited from Jindal.

In an interview three days before the election, Letlow said his priorities will be helping create jobs and extending fast internet service throughout the district.

He noted that he was among those who suffered at home from slow internet speeds.

Email Tyler Bridges at tbridges@theadvocate.com.