MELINDA DESLATTE, Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Republican John Kennedy and Democrat Foster Campbell agreed on one thing Wednesday as they began a month-long sprint to Louisiana’s U.S. Senate runoff election:
They don’t agree on much.
Campbell, a state utility regulator with the Public Service Commission, said the two have such strong distinctions that the choice “is as clear as black and white.” Kennedy, the state treasurer, said they’re as different as “gumbo and grits.”
They were Tuesday’s top vote-getters as Louisianans whittled would-be senators down from two dozen to two for the seat left open by Republican David Vitter, who isn’t running for re-election. And now that the presidential race is settled, Kennedy and Campbell hope to draw more eyes to their campaigns ahead of the next vote on Dec. 10.
Each man accused the other of being a political insider; both have held government jobs for decades. And yet they say it’s easy to tell them apart: Campbell backed Hillary Clinton, while Kennedy supported Donald Trump. Campbell supports a minimum wage increase and equal pay legislation; Kennedy opposes them.
They quickly began trading attacks as the one-on-one phase of their race began.
Kennedy said Campbell supports bigger government, while he wants less regulation.
“Commissioner Campbell believes he can tax, spend and regulate America into prosperity. I do not. Commissioner Campbell believes the government can spend our money better than we can. I do not,” Kennedy said. “Nobody is going to confuse the two of us. We just are diametrically opposed on the role of government in people’s lives.”
Campbell hit Kennedy for changing his positions during two prior runs for the U.S. Senate, running first in 2004 as a Democrat who supported John Kerry for president and the most recent two times as a Republican.
“John Kennedy’s been everything but a Baptist preacher,” Campbell said. “Before he was a staunch conservative Republican, he was a very, very liberal Democrat.”
Kennedy replied that the Democratic Party left him and other one-time Democrats in Louisiana behind, lurching too far to the left.
Campbell said if Kennedy wins the race, he’ll get a state-financed retirement of $120,000 a year on top of Senate salary. The Democratic contender called it “straight hypocrisy” for his GOP opponent to get such a large taxpayer-funded benefit while objecting to raising minimum wages for the poor.
Kennedy said, however, that he’ll get no such money, because he didn’t join the state retirement system.
“Rhetoric and reality often lead separate lives in Commissioner Campbell’s world,” Kennedy said.
Though Campbell and Kennedy said they’d welcome outside help, it’s unclear how much support either will get from national Democratic or Republican organizations, since Kennedy is favored to win by most political prognosticators, and Tuesday’s election left the GOP in control of the U.S. Senate.
Campbell, also a former state senator, continued his populist message of representing working men and women and fighting against special interests, repeating his often-used phrase that he’s not “in anybody’s shirt pocket.”
He sought to tie Kennedy to Vitter, who unsuccessfully ran for governor last year, and to Republican former Gov. Bobby Jindal, who left office highly unpopular and is blamed for creating a financial mess.
“Bobby Jindal and David Vitter set this state back,” Campbell said. He accused Kennedy of not criticizing Jindal until the governor’s popularity waned, and said Kennedy never left Vitter’s “amen corner.”
Kennedy said he was fighting Jindal’s budgeting practices when “you couldn’t have found Foster Campbell with a search party or a map.” But Kennedy didn’t criticize Vitter, who announced Wednesday that he’s supporting Kennedy to succeed him.
“He’ll be a strong, independent fighter for Louisiana. Unlike his opponent, he’ll support Donald Trump in advancing conservative Louisiana values,” Vitter said in a statement.
Campbell said he’ll work across party lines and with the incoming president, “when he’s right.”
Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte .
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