Kennedy and Campbell

John Kennedy (left) and Foster Campbell

Foster Campbell rode a horse at sunrise in a commercial during his unsuccessful 2007 gubernatorial campaign.

A horseman would recognize from Campbell’s repeated leg movements that he tried to get the horse to run. Despite his efforts, the horse would lope a few steps, then drop back into a walk. Public Service Commissioner Campbell’s campaign finished the same way, fourth in a race that elected Bobby Jindal as governor.

This time around, Campbell opted against maverick imagery and brought on members of the team who helped elect John Bel Edwards as the only Democratic governor in the Deep South. Using Edwards’ professionals, Campbell toned down his feisty and occasionally profane style that frequently angers utility company executives.

He’s in the Dec. 10 runoff to decide Louisiana’s next U.S. senator.

In many ways, Campbell doesn’t differ that much from his Republican opponent, state Treasurer John N. Kennedy.

True, Campbell embraces Democratic Party positions, such as an increased minimum wage and equal pay for women. Kennedy backs the Republican Party standards, such as renegotiating trade pacts and better securing the borders against foreigners illegally entering the country.

In this year of the outsider, when America chose a leader who never before has held elected office, Louisiana vetted two dozen candidates and chose the two with the most government experience to replace outgoing Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie.

After two unsuccessful Senate bids — one as a Democrat in 2004 and another as a Republican in 2008 — Kennedy is receiving substantial help from members of Vitter’s team for his third try.

Vitter’s former staffers have reeled in a once free-speaking Kennedy. They also instituted a Vitter-style campaign strategy of attacking fellow Republicans to face a Democrat for the general election in a decidedly red state.

Both Campbell and Kennedy favor down-home sayings, despite dealing with sophisticated financial issues in their day jobs.

Kennedy’s TV spot, in which he said he’d rather drink weed killer than compromise with the Democrats, was the only memorable instance in the primary where the two confronted each other directly. Campbell, whose family has experienced suicide, said he was personally insulted by Kennedy’s flippancy on mental health issues.

Kennedy has used the weed killer homily for years, from describing his disdain for bond market conditions to Jindal’s fiscal policies to the Affordable Care Act.

Both men have carved out careers opposing the establishment.

Campbell blasted Entergy Corp. for making too much profit. But he also helped the company when he objected to a public hearing for people to vent — rather than discuss realistic improvements — about restoring power after hurricanes. "I'm not interested in showboating by a bunch of politicians," Campbell said at the time.

For years, a majority of the PSC commissioners teamed up to deny Campbell the chairman’s post. He eventually served a term as chairman.

The truth is that both of these technocrats preside in an intricate world where subtle points mean millions of dollars to dozens of very powerful people.

In his 13 years as a utility regulator, Campbell has overseen business decisions by huge private corporations at the intersection of utility engineering and high finance.

As state treasurer for the past 17 years, Kennedy has been in charge of assembling and selling hundreds of billions of dollars of loans taxpayers take out to fund state projects. Prices for these bonds depend on the market’s analysis of the state’s financial security. Consequently, Kennedy has criticized, often sharply, the fiscal policies of governors from both parties.

A group of legislators, supported by Jindal, tried to whack Kennedy with attempts to pull his office’s funding and overturn the law that assigns state treasurers to chair the State Bond Commission.

“This election is not about me,” Kennedy said. “It’s about change.”

Despite patches of blue in urban centers, Louisiana remains a red state that, with the exception of Edwards, has elected Republicans in recent statewide ballots.

Democrats weren’t much interested in the Senate race — prominent Republicans started jockeying for the seat more than two years ago — until Edwards’ remarkable victory last fall over a deeply unpopular Vitter, said Albert Samuels, a political scientist teaching at Southern University in Baton Rouge.

“They jumped in thinking sea change,” Samuels said. “But the 2016 election is going to revert to form. John Kennedy is no David Vitter.”

Edward Chervenak, director at the University of New Orleans Survey Research Center, agreed.

In presidential elections, Louisiana voters tend to go with party affiliation because the candidates are not as familiar as contestants in local mayoral and legislative races, he said. Senate races are somewhere between abstract and familiar, which allows cross-party voting, but recent history shows that pattern generally helps Republicans more than Democrats.

“Outside some scandal, I don’t see a path for Foster Campbell,” Chervenak said.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.