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Possible Candidates in Louisiana Governor's Race Dwindling

The list of Louisiana Republicans eyeing a campaign against Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in the 2019 election is shrinking, with the head of the state's major business lobbying group Friday joining several others in declining to enter the race.

Stephen Waguespack, president and CEO of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said he's ended consideration of a possible gubernatorial bid. "I will not seek any elected office in 2019, but I will be an active voice to make sure next year's elections are about substance rather than sound bites," he said in a statement.

Waguespack's announcement comes two days after Attorney General Jeff Landry told The Associated Press he will run for re-election as the state's chief legal officer, rather than challenge Edwards. And though many Republicans hoped U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise would enter the governor's race, Scalise has repeatedly said, again this month, that he intends to stay in Congress.

Scalise will be the No. 2 GOP leader when Democrats take control of the House. Focus remains squarely on whether U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, who remains consistently popular with Louisiana voters, will try to keep Edwards from a second term in office. Kennedy has said he'll announce his intentions by Dec. 1. "I haven't made a decision, but I will soon," Kennedy said Wednesday.

Also considering whether to jump into the most high-profile race on the state political calendar are U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, who represents a northeast Louisiana-based district, and state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a first-term lawmaker from St. Tammany Parish.

One Republican has announced a gubernatorial campaign: Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone, who said he's set aside $5 million of his own cash to fund it. Edwards reported $5 million in his account earlier this year. As head of the state's chamber of commerce, Waguespack would have had access to a pool of deep-pocketed potential donors.

He's also long been involved in federal and state politics, working in Washington before holding several jobs with former Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration, including as his chief of staff. But he also would have lacked the household name recognition of someone like Kennedy. Still, Waguespack said his decision against running won't keep him from weighing in on the race.

He said both parties "are plagued with the sound bite sickness" and he'll press candidates to move beyond "partisan bickering and generic rhetoric" and offer detailed recommendations to address Louisiana's long-standing problems. "Next year is a tremendous opportunity for voters to demand from their leaders specific ideas and actions on topics such as tax and budget reform, education, economic growth and a constitutional convention," he said.

Republicans have targeted Edwards for ouster since his long-shot election win in 2015. The West Point graduate and former state lawmaker is the only Democratic governor in the conservative Deep South, and he's the first Democrat to win statewide office in Louisiana since 2008.

GOP leaders contend that victory was a fluke, and they've hammered Edwards as out of step with the majority of his state's voters on taxes, spending and other issues. Edwards' approval ratings have hovered around 50 percent in recent polls.