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(The Center Square) – On Friday, the final day for candidates to sign up to run for one of Louisiana’s two open seats in Congress, perhaps the biggest news was about someone who isn’t running.

State Rep. Lance Harris, an Alexandria Republican, ran to represent the 5th Congressional District last fall, making the runoff but losing to fellow Republican Luke Letlow.

Letlow subsequently contracted COVID-19 and died days before taking office, leaving the seat open. On Friday, Harris announced that he wouldn’t try for the seat again this year.

“For now, I believe I can better serve my district and this state by remaining in the leadership position in Louisiana Legislature,” he said in a video statement.

Julia Letlow, Luke Letlow’s widow, qualified to run on Thursday. Sandra Chistophe, a Democrat who came within a few hundred votes of edging out Harris and making the December runoff, is back in contention.

Louisiana does not hold party primaries. Every candidate for an office competes on the same ballot in the first round. If no candidate gets more than half of the votes, the top two regardless of party advance to a runoff.

The candidates who on Friday qualified for the 5th District race, which features 13 candidates, are Jim Davis, who is from Monroe and not a member of a political party, Democrat Jessica Hollister of Bogalusa, Republican Robert Lansden of Ponchatoula, Republican Jaycee Magnuson of Opelousas, independent M.V. “Vinny” Mendoza of Ponchatoula, and Republican Richard Pannell of Dry Prong.

They join Republicans Errol Victor of Slidell, Chad Conerly of Kentwood, Allen Guillory of Lawtell, Horace Melton III of Shreveport, and Sancha Smith of Opelousas, who qualified earlier in the week. The largely rural 5th District includes much of northeast and central Louisiana.

The race for the 2nd Congressional District, which includes New Orleans and stretches into Baton Rouge, also drew a crowded field. The seat came open when Democrat Cedric Richmond left Congress to join President Joe Biden's administration.

A pair of Democratic state senators from New Orleans, Karen Carter Peterson and Troy Carter, are the most high-profile candidates among the 15 who qualified. Democrat Harold John of New Orleans, Harvey Republican Sheldon Vincent, and Brandon Jolicoeur, a New Orleans resident who does not identify with a political party, all threw their hats in the ring Friday.

Republican Chelsea Ardoin of New Orleans, independent Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste of New Orleans, Republican Claston Bernard of Gonzales, Democrat J. Christopher Johnson of Gretna, Democrat Lloyd M. Kelly of New Orleans, Republican Greg Lirette of New Orleans, Democrat Desiree Ontiveros of New Orleans, Democrat Gary Chambers of Baton Rouge, Libertarian Mindy McConnel of New Orleans, and New Orleans Democrat Jenette Porter all qualified earlier in the week.

Jefferey Robinson, a Ruston Republican, claimed a north Louisiana appeals court judgeship when no one else qualified to run. Marcus Hunter, Larry Jefferson, and J. Garland Smith, all Monroe Democrats, are running to be an appeals court judge in the same circuit.

Six candidates are seeking to represent northwest Louisiana’s District 4 on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education after Tony Davis stepped down. They include John Milkovich, a Democrat-turned-independent and former state legislator from Shreveport who was a vociferous opponent of Common Core education standards.

Also running to replace Davis on the BESE are Republican Shelly McFarland of Winnfield, Republican Michael Melerine of Shreveport, Democrat Emma Shepard of Shreveport, Democrat Cassie Williams of Bossier City, and Cody Whitaker of Winnfield, who does not identify with a political party.

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.