Louisiana Election

Louisiana state treasurer John Kennedy addresses supporters at his election watch party, after being elected to the senate seat vacated by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. Left is his wife Becky Kennedy. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

At various times during his quarter of a century in office, former U.S. Sen. David Vitter was described many ways: A rising star, a thorn in the side of fellow Republicans, lead player in a Washington sex scandal, a comeback kid, the most powerful politician in Louisiana, and ultimately, a fatally flawed candidate for governor.

Now that he’s safely off in the private sector, there’s another label that fits: Cautionary tale.

There are lots of ways to interpret U.S. Sen. John Kennedy’s Monday announcement that he wouldn’t challenge Gov. John Bel Edwards — after months of heavy hints that he would. One is likely the prospect of following in Vitter’s footsteps.

Edwards, a Democrat from Amite just off two terms in the state House, was never supposed to be elected three years ago, most self-proclaimed experts —myself definitely included — believed. The only question then was whether Vitter or one of the other Republicans running in the primary, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, would be the one to polish him off in the runoff.

That’s not what happened. Vitter, Dardenne and Angelle tore one another to shreds, and Edwards found a way to capitalize on Vitter’s long-ago prostitution scandal, link the senator in voters’ minds (ironically) to his longtime adversary Bobby Jindal, and forge a bond himself with voters who tend to choose Republicans.

By the time Election Night rolled around, Vitter not only conceded but announced he’d leave the Senate at the end of his term, which surely sounded like an acknowledgement that any Republican who can’t beat a Democrat in reliably red Louisiana is damaged goods.

The same would go for Kennedy if he were to take on Edwards and lose, and also for others who took a pass, including Attorney General Jeff Landry. Both are perennial Edwards critics from the safety of the sidelines, and will likely keep on criticizing.

But we now know that neither will be the next David Vitter, at least in this sense. That only happens when you’re willing to put skin in the game.

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.