Caroline Kennedy: Appointment Or Disappointment?

Yes, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg is interested in the Senate seat from New York. That was established Monday and confirmed by many New York Democrats, including the guy who's going to make the appointment, Gov. David Paterson. Front page headlines everywhere.

So, end of story? Paterson picks Kennedy, Camelot redux? Not so fast.

For weeks now, there has been breathless speculation about what the daughter of President Kennedy might do. For most of her adult life, she has gone out of her way to stay out of the limelight. She has never actively participated in campaigns, let alone run for office. But this year was different. A very public endorsement of Barack Obama back in January. Participating in his VP vetting team. A speech at the Democratic National Convention this summer. Active campaigning on behalf of Obama in key battleground states this fall. And now this.

Kennedy family 1994 campaign button.

In 1994 it seemed that everywhere you looked a Kennedy was running for office somewhere. hide caption

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In addition to the governor, Caroline has sought out the Rev. Al Sharpton, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and senior Sen. Charles Schumer. A tour of upstate New York by the longtime Manhattan resident is next.

But it's one thing to run for the seat. Anyone can do that and, by the looks of things, nearly everyone might want to. But only one person will be appointed to fill the seat once Hillary Clinton gets confirmed as secretary of state. And Caroline Kennedy is one on a quite sizable list. A list of politicos with sizable qualifications and experience.

Plus, there was something Paterson said at Monday's news conference that stuck with me: "She told me she was interested in the position," the governor said. "She'd like at some point to sit down and tell me what she thinks her qualifications are" (emphasis mine). It almost sounded as if he was wondering whether she was the most qualified candidate.

Others have been thinking the same thing. Rep. Gary Ackerman of Queens, one of the nine Democrats in the state not considering the Senate seat, made his feelings clear in an interview last week: "I don't know what Caroline Kennedy's qualifications are. Except that she has name recognition, but so does J Lo." Hank Sheinkopf, a party strategist, was unusually antagonistic toward Kennedy on interviews replayed all day Tuesday on CNN.

At some point, I expect to see an approach similar to what Ted (officially, Edward Moore) Kennedy faced in 1962. At his Democratic primary debate, opponent Ed McCormack made the famous remark, "If your name were Edward Moore instead of Edward Kennedy, your candidacy would be a joke." Will people be asking that about Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg?

But there are also signs that Democrats will embrace her candidacy. Already Rep. Louise Slaughter of Rochester has endorsed her, spurning her many congressional colleagues who are actively seeking the appointment. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R? D? I?) sounded very supportive as well. Although the Empire State GOP is in shambles, whichever Democrat is appointed will still have to run in 2010 (to fill the Clinton term) and again in 2012 (for a new term), and that means a lot of money is going to have to be raised. The Kennedy name alone might be able to get to some of the required $70 million. And running with a Kennedy in 2010 may not be the worst thing in the world for Gov. Paterson.

One serious question: What does Hillary want? Or, better put, how would Sen. Clinton feel about Caroline Kennedy taking her Senate seat, given Kennedy's influential snub of Clinton in favor of Obama last winter?

Huffington Post's Sam Stein reports that Kennedy has called Clinton to let her know of her interest in the seat but that they have yet to speak. Stein writes that Hillary may not exactly be a Caroline booster:

The key sticking point for Kennedy remains: whether or not she can placate Clinton's backers in New York, many of whom seem tepid or antagonistic towards her candidacy.

Multiple reports indicate that supporters of the former first lady — not to mention the Clintons themselves — weren't willing to simply forget Kennedy's endorsement of Barack Obama during the Democratic primary. Others, including several Clinton fundraisers, have made public statements that the former first daughter simply isn't qualified for the Senate. But the source close to Clinton insists that their differences are not caused by hurt feelings, but rather preferences for other New York politicians.

"The Clintons aren't going to do anything against her," said the source. "I think they had just been more emotionally attached to names that surfaced before hers did, like Randi Weingarten [of the United Federation of Teachers] and [Rep.] Carolyn Maloney."

And it's not just Clinton allies, or Gary Ackerman, or Hank Sheinkopf. There are also the sentiments of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson to consider.

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