December 11, 2016 / 3:23 AM / 3 years ago

Republican leads in U.S. Senate runoff in Louisiana, as party seeks 52 seats

BATON ROUGE, La., Dec 10 (Reuters) - Republican John Neely Kennedy, a candidate for the U.S. Senate in a runoff election in Louisiana, was leading in early results on Saturday in a race that was widely expected to give the Republicans a 52-seat majority in the chamber.

Kennedy, the state treasurer, was seen as the favorite heading into the runoff against his Democratic opponent, Foster Campbell, a cattle rancher and state utility regulator.

Kennedy had more than 63 percent of the vote in early results, with 1,532 of 3,904 precincts reporting, posted on the website of the state Secretary of State’s Office. Polls closed at 8 p.m. local time (0200 GMT).

A victory for Kennedy would give the Republicans a 52-seat majority in the 100-seat U.S. Senate. Going into the general election on Nov. 8, Republicans had 54 seats.

Kennedy has campaigned on the popularity in his state of President-elect Donald Trump, who easily won Louisiana.

Trump flew into the state capital of Baton Rouge for an election-eve rally on Kennedy’s behalf and Vice President-elect Mike Pence previously stumped for Kennedy in New Orleans.

Kennedy, 65, was a Democrat until he switched party affiliation in the conservative-leaning state to become a Republican in 2007.

He has consistently polled well ahead of Campbell since placing first in the state’s 24-candidate free-for-all primary, which included former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

Campbell, 69, in line with Louisiana’s conservative political leanings, took some positions, such as opposition to abortion, generally not held by Democrats in other parts of the country.

Under Louisiana law, all candidates are pitted against each other in the November general election. If no candidate claims a majority, the top two candidates head to a December runoff. (Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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