Kennedy and Campbell

John Kennedy (left) and Foster Campbell

With 24 candidates now winnowed down to two, the U.S. Senate race has shaped up to be another battle between Gov. John Bel Edwards and U.S. Sen. David Vitter.

While neither of the candidates who ran for governor last year is on the Dec. 10 ballot, Democrat Foster Campbell is Edwards' pick for the job and Republican John Kennedy has Vitter's backing. The connections run so deep that even staffers from their campaigns find themselves up against familiar foes from last fall.

Just days into the runoff race, Campbell has indicated that he's willing to use Vitter, who suffered a stunning defeat last fall after entering the gubernatorial race as the frontrunner, against Kennedy. He repeatedly linked the two during a news conference Wednesday morning, describing Vitter as someone who "has no friends," and likening that to Kennedy.

"He doesn't get along with people well," said Campbell, currently a member of the state Public Service Commission.

Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said it's a creative strategy to try to connect Kennedy to Vitter and attempt to focus the race on the unpopular outgoing senator who admitted to a “very serious sin” in 2007 after his phone number showed up in the records related to a Washington, D.C., prostitution ring.

"In a state that is overwhelmingly Republican in almost every measure, finding a way to replicate the unprecedented success of John Bel Edwards seems like a good idea for the Democratic side," he said. "One wonders if they can make this a referendum on Sen. Vitter without Sen. Vitter being in the race. My guess is that it won't work."

The 2015 governor's race was particularly brutal. The candidates lashed out against each other in tense debates and blistering ads as Election Day approached.

Edwards has been a long-time backer of Campbell, and Vitter, who has long been rumored to be backing Kennedy, made his endorsement official on Wednesday.

"I'm strongly supporting John Kennedy to succeed me in the Senate," he said. "He'll be a strong, independent fighter for Louisiana. Unlike his opponent, he'll support Donald Trump in advancing conservative Louisiana values."

Kennedy, who has served as state treasurer since 2000, was a key ally of Vitter during the gubernatorial race. In the final days of the election, as polls showed Vitter trailing Edwards, Kennedy stood at his side on the steps of the State Capitol and said that he thought Vitter would be better for the state's feeble financial situation.

Kennedy's campaign would not comment for this story.

The candidate, himself, was unavailable, and campaign manager Kim Allen declined an opportunity for a spokesperson to comment or to submit a statement.

Key among the familiar faces lining up against each other: The pro-Campbell Defend Louisiana PAC is being led by Jared Arsement, the Edwards media consultant who has won multiple awards for his campaign ads, including the infamous "Prostitutes over patriots" ad that accused Vitter of taking a call from D.C. Madam Deborah Jeanne Palfrey minutes after he missed a 2001 U.S. House vote honoring soldiers who had died in action. Kyle Ruckert, who served as Vitter’s campaign manager, is running the pro-Kennedy ESAFund political action committee. ESAFund produced advertising that painted Kennedy's GOP primary opponents as millionaire insiders in league with President Barack Obama. 

Legally, the campaigns cannot coordinate with PACs, but the independent committees generally have more leeway and often take on the role of deploying political attack ads.

Political experts say that turning the Senate race into a governor's race redux won't be easy. Races for Senate and Congress tend to be more partisan and less about individual personality. Also, Vitter, whose downfall was linked to his personal flaws, isn't on the ballot and Kennedy isn't mired by the same personal baggage.

But it isn't stopping Campbell's camp from trying.

About 36 hours after Campbell addressed supporters at his election night party, his campaign distributed a blistering news release taking Kennedy to task for his connections to Vitter and rehashing the sex scandal that helped bring him down in the governor's race.

"Kennedy and Vitter have been locked in a passionate bromance for decades," the release reads before detailing a litany of allegations against Vitter.

During the news conference, Campbell described himself as someone who would be willing to work with both sides, and warned that Kennedy, like Vitter, would leave Louisiana in a position of sending "somebody to Washington who's already got their stinger out."

As one of few elections left undecided after Tuesday, the Louisiana Senate race has started to generate some buzz among liberals who see it as a chance to send a message to Washington and turn it into a referendum, not on Vitter, but on another Republican — Donald Trump.

Actress Debra Messing, best known for playing Grace on the sitcom "Will & Grace," sent a message to her 330,000 followers on Twitter that it's "time to go to work for" Campbell to keep the GOP majority in the Senate to two votes, instead of three.

Cross, the political scientist, said that hopes that the race can be a rebuke of Trump's election would likely be wishful thinking, though.

"Some people vote to send a message, but at this point the message has been sent from Louisiana loud and clear that this is Trump country," he said. "It's inventive but it seems a bit far fetched."

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.