Replacing her husband who died of Covid-19, Julia Letlow hopes to bring her own experience to Congress

Replacing her husband who died of Covid-19, Julia Letlow hopes to bring her own experience to Congress

“It’s really different being the nominee than being the spouse, but nothing that I wasn’t used to already,” Letlow said in an interview with CNN before his victory. She campaigned alongside her husband – a former Hill staff member – in all 24 parishes in the rural district when he ran for the safe Republican seat last year.

In Louisiana’s jungle primary system, candidates from all parties run together on one ballot. If no one had secured the majority of the votes – which was no easy feat in such a crowded race – the top two vote-givers would have qualified for a second round in April. Letlow raised $ 683,000 at the end of February, with Democrat Sandra Christophe raising the second highest amount, around $ 75,000.
Running through this deeply conservative neighborhood, which spans northeast Louisiana and stretches to the toe of the boot, Letlow had amassed broad support from prominent Republicans – and not just his home state. origin. Former President Donald Trump endorsed it earlier this month and it also received donations from some members who voted to impeach the former president, including Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, Republican No. 3 of the Chamber.

Letlow told CNN she would join the House Republican Conference majority in opposing certification of the Jan.6 presidential election, and she supports her state party’s decision to censor the GOP senator. Bill Cassidy for his vote to condemn Trump in his impeachment. trial earlier this year.

Following her husband’s death, Letlow received calls from Trump and President Joe Biden.

“It was special because he lost his wife and daughter in a car accident,” she said of her conversation with Biden.

“He said, ‘You know, where you’re sitting today, I sat down and I know this pain’ – and there’s no such thing as talking to someone that’s been there. where you’ve been and understands this pain you’re in, “Letlow said. “And so his words resonated with me on a very deep level. She said Trump was also “considerate of his words,” expressing condolences.

Unique context

While her candidacy for Congress was not among her immediate plans, Letlow had been considering seeking public office, and her husband had asked her to promise her that she would one day think about it if the opportunity presented itself.

“I was probably going to start on a slightly smaller scale,” Letlow said.

But she quickly stood out.

“From my first conversation with Julia, I knew she was exceptionally special,” said Julie Conway, executive director of VIEW PAC, which recruits and helps elect Republican women, highlighting her “strength, her true faith, her raw honesty and his genuine desire not only to honor Luke’s legacy, but to create his own. ”

While Luke Letlow won the 5th District as Congressional Chief of Staff to replace his retired boss, former Rep. Ralph Abraham, Julia Letlow does not come from a traditional political background. When she was in 5th grade, she told her parents that she wanted to become a college professor.

His academic interests and his personal life soon collided. During his freshman year at the University of Louisiana Monroe, his 17-year-old brother was killed in a car crash. She started doing what she always faced in the face of adversity – looking for answers in books – but she couldn’t find what she needed.

“When I go through a tragedy I tend to dive into research and literature and try to read my experience and learn from others who have gone through it, and there just wasn’t much- thing about the grief of siblings, ”she said. Her teachers encouraged her to try to fill this void and she turned her research into a master’s thesis and eventually wrote a thesis on the loss of family members and the meaning of grief.

His academic work has been all too relevant this year.

“One important thing I lean on now is how important it is to come out of yourself when you are in mourning,” she said, pointing to her candidacy for public office.

Prior to her most recent loss, much of her professional work was rooted in how to communicate grief and loss. She has worked with residents and medical students at Tulane University School of Medicine on how to bond with patients and develop good bedside manners, and sees this ability to humanize and d empathy as part of what she would bring to Congress.

“When I was working with doctors, I would encourage them to, you know, put themselves on the same level as someone, with their patient, especially when breaking bad news,” Letlow said, explaining how it worked out. translated into legislation. “You’re going to have conversations with people where you don’t always agree. But if you can get down to eye level with somebody, you know, over a cup of coffee or whatever, and talk to each other. respect and dignity as human beings first, then it goes much further. ”

Hopes for the Congress

Education is a top priority for Letlow, who was recently a semi-finalist candidate for president of her alma mater, where she rose through the ranks in higher education administration.

“I got to talk about education and how it can be used as a catalyst to lift an area out of poverty,” she said, noting that hers is among the poorest congressional districts. from the country. Nearly 30% of families with children live below the poverty line in the 5th arrondissement, according to the Census Bureau.

She advocates for the extension of broadband in rural areas, noting that residents of her districts have struggled with distance learning and telehealth during the pandemic, and she praised her husband for introducing her to the agrarian roots of the disease. district.

“I’m a town girl – if you want to call me that – I was born and raised in Monroe,” she said, adding that she had married “a good old country boy. Which took her to Start, Louisiana – – “where is Tim McGraw from?” ”

“I might have spent my whole life thinking that products only came from the grocery store,” Letlow joked.

She has hosted a mix of virtual and in-person campaign events this year, adding that she is careful to always wear a mask around others – a practice some GOP congressmen have resisted.

“I want to wear this mask and make sure I protect them,” she said of residents in her district, noting that she and her husband have always followed the guidelines of the state Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. -United on the track.

When asked who she admired in Congress, she pointed to Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves, praising her communication style. And, she noted, many Republican women in Congress have also reached out, with freshman Representative Ashley Hinson of Iowa being particularly helpful.

Because even though she’s already seen a campaign up close, Letlow – like other candidates – receives different questions than her husband’s.

“No one was really asking Luke who will take care of his kids every time he wins,” Letlow said. “You know, I probably had to answer this question 95% of the time. ”

She is not the only woman to run for the seat of a spouse who died from Covid-19. In Texas 6th District, Susan Wright shows up for the open seat of her husband, the late GOP representative. Ron Wright, who died in February.

Republicans elected a record number of non-titular women to the House in 2020 – and Letlow will now be another. But while many of these new GOP women are in competitive seats, Letlow’s victory in a safe red seat will help increase the number of women in the conference in the longer term.

“This means she can spend a lot more time legislating and doing election service than campaigning,” Conway said.

This story was updated on Saturday with Letlow’s victory.


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