Lance Harris, Luke Letlow

State Rep. Lance Harris (left) and Luke Letlow, former chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, debate who would better represent Louisiana's 5th District in Congress.

(The Center Square) – Since both of the remaining candidates for Louisiana’s 5th District in the House of Representatives are conservative Republicans, Thursday’s debate focused largely on life experience, not policy differences.

State Rep. Lance Harris touted his work in the Legislature and as a business owner, while Luke Letlow said his service as outgoing U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham’s chief of staff has prepared him to be an effective congressman.

“I’ve been the man in the arena,” Harris said.

Harris said his experience as a farmer helps him to understand the needs of the largely rural district where agriculture drives the economy. Because he has made payroll and created jobs, he understands the needs of businesses and how government sometimes can get in the way, he said.

Harris contrasted himself with Letlow by calling his opponent a “politically appointed government employee and lobbyist,” and said Letlow should not take credit for Abraham’s work.

“I have a passion for serving people,” Letlow said. “I make no apologies for that.”

Letlow said he had helped to spur creation of thousands of jobs by helping to create effective policies while working for Abraham and former Gov. Bobby Jindal. That includes the most recent federal Farm Bill, which created new trading partners for Louisiana farmers, he said.

Letlow said he would come to Congress with existing relationships in Washington, D.C. and knowledge about which government programs should be eliminated or cut to free up money for priorities such as Social Security.

Asked about how they would handle COVID-19 pandemic and the associated economic downturn, both said they would work to balance public health with keeping the economy open but did not offer specifics. Both also said they were concerned about the “radical left.”

The 5th District includes northeast and part of central Louisiana and is mostly rural, though it includes the cities of Monroe and Alexandria.

In the first round of voting that culminated Nov. 3, Letlow finished first among nine candidates in the nonpartisan open primary. Harris came in second, edging out Democrat Sandra Christophe by less than 500 votes out of almost 310,000 cast for a spot in the runoff.

Early voting for the runoff begins Friday ahead of the final election day on Dec. 5.

Staff Reporter

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.