Letlow, who served as chief of staff to former Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-La.) before being elected to fill that seat, was supposed to be sworn into Congress on Sunday. He is the first member or member-elect to die from the coronavirus, though dozens of lawmakers have tested positive for Covid-19 over the past year.
Letlow leaves behind a wife and two small children. He was initially admitted to a Monroe hospital on Dec. 19, but was transferred and placed in the ICU last week when his condition deteriorated.
Lawmakers and aides on Capitol Hill said they were devastated to learn of Letlow’s passing. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a brief statement that “our hearts break tonight as we process the news.”
The entire Louisiana delegation, led by House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, issued a joint statement offering their condolences.
“Luke had such a positive spirit, and a tremendously bright future ahead of him. He was looking forward to serving the people of Louisiana in Congress, and we were excited to welcome him to our delegation where he was ready to make an even greater impact on our state and our Nation,” the statement said.
“More than anything, Luke was a loving husband, father, brother, and son, and his family — like so many others who have been affected by this evil disease — needs our prayers.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards offered condolences via Twitter: “It is with heavy hearts that @FirstLadyOfLA and I offer our condolences to Congressman-elect Luke Letlow’s family on his passing after a battle with COVID-19. #lagov.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi paid him tribute as well: “Congressman-elect Letlow was a ninth-generation Louisianan who fought passionately for his point of view and dedicated his life to public service. As the House grieves Congressman-elect Letlow’s passing, our sorrow is compounded by the grief of so many other families who have also suffered lives cut short by this terrible virus. May it be a comfort to Luke’s wife Julia and their children Jeremiah and Jacqueline that so many mourn their loss and are praying for them at this sad time.”
And Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the GOP conference chair in Congress, also mourned Letlow’s passing: “Such devastating news about Congressman-elect Letlow. A tremendous loss – we will be praying for Luke and his family.”
Louisiana’s 5th District covers the northeast part of the state. Letlow had won a runoff Dec. 5 over another Republican, state Rep. Lance Harris, to settle one of the last undetermined races of the 2020 election cycle. Abraham had declined to seek reelection this year.
Before working for Abraham, Letlow had worked in the administration of Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s former governor.
On Twitter, Jindal said: “I first met Luke when he was still a college student, and spent countless hours with him in his truck driving the back roads of Louisiana. His passion for service has been a constant throughout his life.”
Instances of candidates being elected to Congress and dying before they can be sworn in have been very rare. One notable instance was Jack Swigert, a former astronaut who was elected to a House seat in Colorado in 1982 but died of cancer in late December.
David Cohen contributed to this report.