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Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson Parish, waves to the crowd after giving the opening address at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference at the Pontchartrain Convention & Civic Center in Kenner , La. Friday, Jan. 18, 2019. The two-day event started Friday.

U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise has said repeatedly that he doesn't want to run for governor this year, but that hasn't stopped speculation — and perhaps some wishful thinking — that he will change his mind.

"There have been people who have asked me to run for a while," Scalise, R-Jefferson, told Politico late Thursday afternoon. "What I’ve told them is I appreciate their interest, but I have a job that I really enjoy."

Scalise, who is the longest-serving member of the state's current congressional delegation, first put to bed talk last June that he might run, when he said there was “no way” he’d enter the race, but rumors have persisted, prompting him to repeatedly say that he will not run.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a first-term Democrat, is seeking re-election. Two Republicans have formally entered the race, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, of Alto, and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone.

In addition to Scalise, Republicans U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, of Madisonville, and Attorney General Jeff Landry, of Broussard, have said they also will not run for governor.

Abraham, 64, is in his third term representing the 5th congressional district centered mostly in northeast Louisiana.

Rispone, 70, is running for elected office for the first time.

Both challengers posted fundraising figures well below the $8.4 million campaign war chest that Edwards has amassed since taking office January 2016. But their campaigns have remained optimistic. Both have spent recent weeks crisscrossing the state to attend meet-and-greets and fundraising events.

The state party also has sought to tamp down speculation that Republicans won’t put up a strong fight against Edwards.

“We have two great candidates. Our goal is to build our grass-roots infrastructure and help our down ballot candidates all the way up,” said Andrew Bautsch, Louisiana GOP executive director. “I think people are trying to figure out which candidate will be for them.”

The election is Oct. 12. A Nov. 16 runoff will take place if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary.

In addition to Rispone and Abraham, other candidates could enter the race before the August qualifying deadline.

But Scalise’s name has been the one that has seemingly resurfaced several times — even after he said he will not run.

Scalise, 53, narrowly survived a mass shooting during practice for the annual congressional baseball game in June 2017. His recovery was chronicled in the media, and his return to Louisiana after being treated in a Washington-area hospital for several months sparked televised celebrations at several athletic events.

A spokeswoman for his office said he had nothing to say about the continued speculation beyond what he told Politico this week. He has not endorsed either Republican in the race so far but has spoken highly of both.

“I know Eddie Rispone real well,” Scalise told Politico. “I serve with Ralph Abraham; I know him very well. They’re both very accomplished people. It’s good to know there are good people running, let’s see what they do.”

LSU political science professor Robbie Hogan said the speculation — particularly that about Scalise — isn’t surprising.

“It’s not really uncommon for party people to think along these lines: These are our options, ‘Are we satisfied?’” Hogan said. “I think it’s safe to say that the Republican candidates who have declared themselves have not created the degree of excitement that a lot of Republicans had hoped.”

The fact that Scalise went from the No. 3 member in the House majority to now a leader in the House minority party may also be fueling some of the talk, Hogan said.

“It is a very unpleasant situation to be in the minority party in the House of Representatives,” Hogan said. “It’s got to be frustrating for someone who is viewed as a rising star in the Republican Party.”

But Democrats and the Edwards campaign have seized upon the narrative that Republicans are trying to find someone better to challenge the incumbent.

“At this point, the Republican attempts to find someone else to run for governor have just become a sad indictment of the campaigns of Eddie Rispone and Congressman Ralph Abraham,” Democratic Governors Association spokesman David Turner said. “They are basically becoming the last kid picked for the pickup basketball game. This open casting call only serves to underscore the strength of John Bel Edwards’ re-election campaign as he builds on his record of creating jobs and expanding access to health care.”

Edwards, 52, was thought to be a long-shot when he ran for governor four years ago, but he trounced Republican David Vitter, who faced continued hits on the campaign trail related to his past link to a prostitution scandal. An anti-abortion, pro-Second Amendment Democrat, Edwards has taken heat for a 1-cent increase in the state sales tax that took affect shortly after he took office to shore up the state budget. Nearly half of that tax remains on the books today.

Bautsch stressed that he believes Republicans have a good case to make against Edwards.

“I think what Republican voters should keep in mind — our economy, our business climate. We’re last in just about every metric or one of the last,” he said. “I think people need to understand that the governor promised a lot in his campaign and didn’t deliver.”

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.