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State Representative Ted James speaks at a press conference with Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, along with partner Ilera Holistic Healthcare, to discuss their historic launch of THC medical marijuana products, Wednesday, July 1, 2020, at the Wade House at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La.

State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, said Wednesday he is dropping his bid to chair the state Democratic Party so he can focus on national politics and improving police practices in Louisiana.

James earlier won the endorsement of Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat.

"He's been a close friend, strong supporter and unwavering ally to me in the Legislature," Edwards said in a statement earlier this month.

"For the last four and a half years, we've worked together to put Louisiana first - passing historic criminal justice reforms, fighting for working families and making critical investments in education and health care all across our state."

Karen Carter Peterson is stepping down as chairperson of the party this month after eight years on the job.

In a message to supporters, James noted that he was an early backer of Kamala Harris, now the party's vice-presidential nominee, in her earlier bid for president.

"The next 70 days are critical, and to make sure we defeat Donald Trump I've decided to increase my efforts with the Biden-Harris team," he said, a reference to Democratic Party presidential nominee Joe Biden.

James said he also plans to step up efforts to revamp police practices statewide, especially after the recent deaths of several Black men at the hands of police.

The lawmaker is on a state panel studying police practices.

"My focus as a legislator will be on reforming policing in our state," James said.

"This must take priority at this time. We cannot wait any longer while lives are continuing to be stolen."

James said he has talked to Edwards and U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans "and we are on the same page."

"The only way to move forward is to unite and increase our voices and span of influence, not just in Louisiana but across the nation," he said.

James is an influential member of the Baton Rouge area legislative delegation and chairman of the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee.

The job of party chair was set to be decided on Saturday by the Democratic State Central Committee. But the party postponed its conclave because of Hurricane Laura.

Katie Bernhardt, who lives in Lafayette, is also making a bid for the post.

In a statement, Bernhardt said she is "grateful to have the support of so many members and elected officials."

"I look forward to leading our party to finally write its own story in Louisiana," she said.

Whether others will enter the race is unclear.

Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.