For political junkies it was one of Campaign 2008’s biggest moments: when Caroline Kennedy, daughter of assassinated President John F. Kennedy, became part of the Kennedy family group glaringly “passing the torch” of dynastic political change and Democratic party charisma to the party’s eventual victorious nominee, Democratic Senator Barack Obama in a major p.r. blow to Obama primary opponent New York Senator Hillary Clinton.
This was the “new” Caroline Kennedy, a studiously private person suddenly eschewing her thirst for privacy by coming out strongly for Obama and actually going on the stump and aggressively campaigning for him. Crowds loved her due to who she is and what her support symbolized. Plus, her message of change wasn’t bad…
But to many who were alive in the 60s, she was another kind of symbol.
It was always assumed that JFK’s dashing son JFK, Jr., would run for President, particularly as he got older and began to display almost more charisma than his late dad. But he died in a plane crash in cold, dark ocean waters. But now, today, the word was not so discreetly leaked out:
Caroline Kennedy wants to run for Hillary Clinton’s soon-to-be-vacated Senate seat.
Her two immediate obstacles will likely be: getting named by New York’s Governor and overcoming the wounded feelings of some Hillary Clinton supporters who may still be smarting over the way she, her Uncle Teddy and some other Kennedys came out for Obama and against Hillary. Hillary supporters are insisting there is no organized anti-Caroline movement.
But make no mistake about it: when you surf the new and old news media, when you watch cable TV shows, and listen to radio talk shows with leftist hosts praising her and rightist hosts denouncing her), Caroline Kennedy’s hat is now definitely in the ring. A New York Times report makes it clear that this is not a news story based on a rumor or two:
Ms. Kennedy ended weeks of silence with a series of rapid-fire phone calls to the state’s leading political figures, including Gov. David A. Paterson, in which she emphatically and enthusiastically declared herself interested in the seat, according to several people who received the calls.
“She told me she was interested in the position,” Mr. Paterson said at a news conference outside Albany on Monday. He added: “She’d like at some point to sit down and tell me what she thinks her qualifications are.”
The governor, who has sole authority to fill the Senate vacancy, insisted that he had not yet chosen a successor to Mrs. Clinton and said that Monday’s conversation with Ms. Kennedy was the first he had had with her since an initial discussion almost two weeks ago.
But several people who have counseled the governor on the impending vacancy said that Ms. Kennedy has emerged as a clear frontrunner, if she proves able to withstand the intense scrutiny and criticism that her decision to seek the seat is likely to provoke. Ms. Kennedy is now launching a public effort to demonstrate that she has both the ability and the stomach to perform the job, with plans to visit parts of the upstate region. The governor, who has expressed frustration with other elected officials for campaigning too openly, has done nothing to discourage her, said a person who has spoken with Ms. Kennedy.
And it also sounds like Ms. Kennedy is proving her political talents, as well:
In addition, a person with direct knowledge of the conversations said that Ms. Kennedy and Mr. Paterson had spoken several times in recent days and that the governor had grown increasingly fond of her. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing the governor, said that Mr. Paterson also has come to see Ms. Kennedy as a strong potential candidate whose appointment would keep a woman in the seat and whose personal connections would allow her to raise the roughly $70 million required to hold the seat in the coming years.
In another piece, the Times notes that Kennedy has a resume long on politics, but short on public service. Here’s another bio.
And, indeed, there are several reasons why a Caroline Kennedy candidacy could make sense PROVIDING she holds up to the kind of 21st century old and new media scrutiny that her father did not have to experience:
1. She comes from the country’s most respected political dynasty (respected even among many who hate them…)
2. It would keep New York’s Senate seat most likely for more than one election cycle in Democratic Party hands due to the Kennedy contacts, money and political know-how.
3. A woman would still hold the seat — and not in the sense that this might have been perceived years ago, as a kind of oddity or political tokenism. Hillary Clinton by most accounts was an efficient Senator who kept her fences mended back home and quickly responded to constituency concerns.
4. It would put a major Obama supporter in a major Senate seat (not bad for the incoming White House administration).
Time Magazine’s Karen Tumulty writes of the near shock of many who never dreamed Caroline Kennedy would seek to step so boldly out into the national spotlight. She also notes that there will be some opposition to Kennedy:
Ultimately, however, the decision rests with New York Governor David Paterson. His reaction to Kennedy’s decision was noncommittal, but one source close to the Kennedy family says Caroline believes Paterson is “on board with the idea.” There indeed is much to recommend her; Kennedy’s celebrity status and high name recognition would make it easy for her to raise money, which is an important consideration, because whoever is appointed to the seat will face a special election in 2010 and yet another campaign in 2012, when the seat’s regular term expires.
However, should Paterson decide to appoint Kennedy, 51 — and it’s possible he might feel that he has to now that Kennedy has thrown her hat into the ring — the move would not be without controversy. The state has no shortage of more seasoned politicians who are also interested in the job. Among those who are being mentioned as possible candidates are Kennedy’s former cousin-in-law, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo; at least four current House members, including Kirsten Gillibrand, Carolyn Maloney, Brian Higgins and Steve Israel; Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown; and Nassau County executive Tom Suozzi. Last week, New York Congressman Gary Ackerman said he didn’t know of any qualifications that Kennedy has, “except that she has name recognition — but so does J. Lo.” (See other possible candidates for Clinton’s Senate seat.)
Kennedy’s decision mystifies some who know her. “I can’t imagine she’s going to like this,” says one family friend. While Kennedy enjoyed giving speeches for Obama, as well as campaigning for her many relatives who have run for office, the friend said Kennedy may discover that she is not suited to the drudge work of campaigning for herself, which includes countless phone calls to donors, stumping through tiny hamlets and putting up with questions from the media. And because the Senate appointee would have to run in two elections, she would be in virtual campaign mode for her first four years in office.
The Huffington Post’s John Bohrer notes that if she gets the nod, it won’t be a cake walk from New York into the Senate:
Caroline Kennedy’s New York Senate candidacy is reportedly underway, and it will be rough. When Robert Kennedy finally decided to make a go at the same seat in August 1964, his wife Ethel predicted that he’d start out ahead, fall behind in October and then come back to win — which is exactly what happened. It looks like the same bumpy road is ahead for his niece, with a much less certain outcome.
Questions about inexperience and nepotism are circulating, which shouldn’t come as a surprise: no Kennedy has ever gone for his or her first elected office without such talk. A few wilted but most withstood the early criticisms, and the bright side is that these concerns fade with astounding speed once the race moves on to real issues.
The difference in this situation is that Ms. Kennedy would be a Senator before she is a candidate, so instead of proving herself in a campaign, she has to do it as a freshman legislator. Of course, there are hundreds of examples to look to, but the natural comparisons she can expect are to the Senators Kennedy she aspires to follow: John, Ted and Robert. It’s a mixed bag of aspects to both emulate and avoid.
There’s more so read it in its entirety.
So 2009 could be the year when Caroline Kennedy, who so cherished and guarded her late, beloved Dad’s works and image as well as her low profile, extends the family’s political dynasty in a big, public way.
Meanwhile, former Florida Jeb Bush makes it clear he might run for Senate in his state, too.
Could this be a trend? (Keep an eye on those Nixon daughters…)
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.