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Peter Kovacs, editor of The Advocate, right, speaks during a candidate forum for U.S. Senate Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016, at the Tchefuncta Country Club in Covington. Joining him at the dais are, from left: State Treasurer John Kennedy; U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-La.; New Orleans lawyer Caroline Fayard; Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell; and U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La.

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD

Perhaps this is fitting for a campaign that has had a few twists and turns and has basically remained stagnant, but it looks as if the contest for Louisiana's open U.S. Senate seat could end up pretty much where it started: with state Treasurer John Kennedy most likely — although not guaranteed — to claim one of two runoff slots, and the rest of the major candidates scrambling for a ticket to the second round.

Just as in the race's early polls, Kennedy, the only statewide official on the ballot, has opened up something of a lead over his four major competitors in three recent surveys, by Southern Media & Opinion Research for a group of business leaders, by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research for Raycom Media, and by the University of New Orleans Survey Research Center. 

In the SMOR poll, Kennedy, a Republican, scored 22 percent, followed by Democratic Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell with 16 percent, Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany with 14 percent, Democratic lawyer Caroline Fayard with 12 percent, and Republican U.S. Rep. John Fleming with 9 percent. Another good sign for Kennedy here is that his approval rating is an enviable 65 percent, which suggests voters aren't necessarily looking for an alternative. The poll did not measure the popularity of the other candidates.

The Raycom poll, which was used to determine which candidates will participate in next week's final televised debate, had Kennedy at 24 percent, Campbell at 19, and Fayard, Boustany and Fleming bunched in third at around 11 percent.

The UNO poll released Thursday afternoon had Kennedy at 22 percent, Campbell and Boustany tied at 15 percent each, Fleming at 11 percent and Fayard at 10 percent. 

A fourth independent poll presents an alternate picture. This one, by Market Research Insight for a different business group, had Kennedy and Boustany nearly tied with 17 and 16 percent, respectively. Campbell, Fayard and Fleming rounded out the top tier with 14, 12 and 7 percent. This poll is closer to surveys we were seeing earlier this fall, when Boustany and Fleming were advertising on television and Kennedy was holding back. He's since started advertising heavily, and his affiliated Super PAC, funded largely by money from money raised for his treasurer campaign account, has been pounding the other Republicans.

The other news out of the polls is that Boustany has settled in as Kennedy's biggest threat. He's got some momentum, having picked up the main newspaper endorsements, run some of the best ads in the race, and made an explicit pitch to voters who are focused on policy and productivity. Kennedy has run as more of a throw-the-bums-out outsider, and has campaigned in mostly hokey generalities about drinking weed killer and such.

So, one big question is whether Boustany can finally knock Kennedy out of that top perch. Another is whether, if Kennedy were to hold on, he'd face a Democrat or a fellow Republican in the runoff. The first scenario remains more likely, but the latter would create a far more interesting dynamic, with the sizable minority of Democratic voters without a candidate of their own but perhaps able to tilt the results toward their favored Republican.

A Kennedy-versus-Boustany runoff would be particularly intriguing on that front. Kennedy, who is not only a former Democrat but a former Democrat with that name, polls well among non-Republicans. In the SMOR poll, he drew 13 percent of the Democratic vote even with two major opponents from the party in the field, and 30 percent of independents. Boustany, the only Republican in the race who really focuses on his willingness to work across the aisle, got 9 percent of Democratic support and 13 percent among those who identify with neither party in the poll.

In fact, both Fleming, who represents the field's right flank, and Boustany have hit Kennedy for his past party alliance and his 2004 endorsement of John Kerry for president — something that could actually help him if he winds up in an all-GOP runoff. In the meantime, he seems to be weathering the line of attack.

“When you get kicked in the rear, it usually means you’re out front,” Kennedy said at the first televised debate last week.

That's where he stood when this whole race started. And it looks like that's where he'll be as the clock ticks down toward Election Day.

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.