President Donald Trump encouraged U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise to run for governor this week during a flight aboard Air Force One en route to Louisiana, according to a news report from Axios.
But Scalise seems to be sticking to the position he's taken repeatedly as his name has popped up as a possible challenger to Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards: "Scalise seemed flattered by Trump's pitch, but politely dismissed the idea," Axios reports, citing a "source with direct knowledge."
A source close to Scalise, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about a private conversation, confirmed to The Advocate that the report was accurate.
"Scalise has said numerous times he isn’t running for governor and nothing has changed," the source said.
U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone are the only Republicans who have launched campaigns so far seeking to unseat Edwards. Abraham and Rispone were expected to attend a fundraiser that Trump appeared at just hours after the Trump-Scalise interaction reportedly took place.
Axios reports Trump "pulled out polling numbers to show Scalise how popular Trump is in (Louisiana)."
"Trump told Scalise that his congressional district was safe, that another Republican could win his seat, and that 'everyone' in Louisiana 'loves' Scalise, so he'd have the best chance of beating the Democratic incumbent governor," according to the report.
Edwards' re-election bid has drawn national interest from Republicans hoping to unseat the only Democratic governor in the Deep South. But privately, some Republicans have questioned whether Abraham, a three-term Congressman from north Louisiana, or Rispone, who has been a major behind-the-scenes player in Louisiana politics but is making his first run for public office, have enough name recognition to knock off Edwards, whose popularity has hovered around 50 percent in recent polls.
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.
Trump has frequently spoken fondly of Scalise, who narrowly survived a mass shooting in 2017 as Republicans practiced for a charity baseball game. 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.
"You’re the greatest, Steve. I appreciate it, and everybody in this country appreciates you, okay?" Trump said during public remarks at an event at a Cameron Parish liquefied natural gas export site on Tuesday highlighting the energy industry.
The Advocate has reached out to Scalise's office for comment on the latest report. In the past, he has declined further comment when speculation has come up about his potential entry into the gubernatorial race.
Scalise, 53, has not endorsed Rispone, 70, or Abraham, 64, in the governor's race, but he has spoken highly of both in recent months.
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