State Treasurer John Kennedy would really love to be a U.S. senator.

He’s run twice before, as a Democrat in the 2004 election that Republican David Vitter won, and as a Republican in the 2008 contest that sent Mary Landrieu back to Washington for her third and final term. He’s running again this year, in an open race to succeed the retiring Vitter.

But while it’s tempting to expect more of the same, a new poll by Southern Media & Opinion Research conducted for Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby suggests this year’s contest will be a whole new, and much more promising, ballgame.

The poll of 500 likely voters put Kennedy atop the large field in the November open primary. He scored 32 percent, distantly followed by U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany with 10, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell with 9, U.S. Rep. John Fleming with 5, retired Col. Rob Maness with 4, attorney Caroline Fayard with 4, former Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Troy Hebert with 2, and Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta with 1. Campbell and Fayard are Democrats and Hebert is an independent; everyone else in the field is Republican.

Even better news for Kennedy lies in his approval rating. Sixty-two percent have a favorable opinion of him; nobody else scored higher than 32 percent (Boustany and Campbell). Of course, many fewer voters know the other candidates well enough to form an opinion, which means they have room to grow. But to knock Kennedy out of that first spot, they’d have to convert some of those positives into negatives, in a year in which anyone not named Donald Trump is having trouble getting attention.

More likely, the poll suggests, is that the rest of the field will cede a runoff spot to Kennedy and compete among themselves for the second slot.

That’s some pretty good news for a two-time loser and political fixture running in an environment that clearly favors outsiders. Still, before Kennedy lets these numbers go to his head, he should remember one more thing about this oddest of political seasons: Voters this year are flat-out full of surprises.

‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.