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President Trump speaks at the American Farm Bureau Federation's convention at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, La. Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. Trump addressed more than 7,000 attendees from across the country at the convention. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and state Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain also attended.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday urged Republicans to vote for one of the GOP challengers to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in the Oct. 12 primary election. 

The comments are the first Trump has made publicly about the governor's race in a state he won by 20 points in 2016, and come in the midst of early voting for the primary election, which runs through Saturday. 

"REPUBLICANS of Louisiana, it is really important for you to go out and vote on October 12th for either Eddie Rispone or Ralph Abraham (both Great), which will lead to a runoff against a Nancy Pelosi/Chuck Schumer Democrat (John Bel Edwards), who does nothing but stymie all of the things we are doing to Make America Great Again," Trump said on Twitter. "Don’t be fooled, John Bel Edwards will NEVER be for us. Early voting has already started!" 

Trump tagged the Twitter account for the Louisiana Republican party.

The comments are the latest indication Louisiana's governor's race is drawing national attention, including millions of dollars in spending from Republican Super PACs. Trump's sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, also hammered Gov. Edwards on Twitter over the weekend. 

Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, has mostly avoided criticizing Trump during the campaign, even touting his meetings with the White House during his tenure. His campaign spokesman Eric Holl reiterated that message Tuesday, citing Edwards' "good working relationship with Trump" that he hopes to continue in a second term. 

"It's no surprise that the President is voicing support for members of his own political party," Holl said in a statement. "Gov. Edwards is focused on his own campaign. Voters know he has a long history of putting Louisiana first and putting people over party. He's worked well with presidents of both parties, including President Trump. He's visited nine times with President Trump, working with him on criminal justice reform, infrastructure and the opioid epidemic." 

Republicans have eagerly awaited Trump's involvement in the governor's race here, speculating that his support for a GOP candidate in a runoff election could push them over the top to defeat Edwards. 

In May, Axios reported Trump tried to persuade U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, to run for governor, which Scalise declined. Trump reportedly told Scalise his congressional district was safe for Republicans and he'd have the best chance of beating the incumbent Democratic governor. 

All candidates will appear on the same ballot on Oct. 12 in Louisiana's open primary system, and if no candidate wins more than 50%, the top two advance to a runoff on Nov. 16. Edwards is aiming for an outright win in the primary, and polling shows him close to the 50% threshold. The Republicans, meanwhile, are battling over the coveted second-place spot. 

The governor is running for reelection against two major Republican candidates and three others. Baton Rouge businessman Rispone and Congressman Abraham, of Alto, both of whom have embraced Trump repeatedly and even fought over who is more loyal to the president. Rispone, who is self-funding his campaign, made his support for Trump  a central part of his introduction to voters, boasting that he put a Trump bumper sticker on his truck.

Abraham, a congressman representing northeast and central Louisiana, has touted his record voting with the president. In a negative ad he launched Monday responding to attacks from Rispone, he brags about voting "seven times for Trump's wall." 

The race between the two Republicans, which Abraham has led for months, has tightened considerably in recent weeks. 

Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com