Is Caroline Kennedy More Than A Household Name?

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Caroline Kennedy stumped for President-elect Barack Obama in Hartford, Conn. in February. i

Caroline Kennedy stumped for President-elect Barack Obama in Hartford, Conn., in February. Her endorsement of Obama put her on the national stage. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Caroline Kennedy stumped for President-elect Barack Obama in Hartford, Conn. in February.

Caroline Kennedy stumped for President-elect Barack Obama in Hartford, Conn., in February. Her endorsement of Obama put her on the national stage.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Caroline Kennedy was trying to appear senatorial Wednesday as she traveled around the state of New York. The daughter of the late John F. Kennedy indicated this week that she'd like to be named to Hillary Clinton's soon-to-open Senate seat.

That means convincing Democratic power brokers in upstate New York, as well as Gov. David Paterson, that she's up to the job.

Looking at history, this particular Senate seat seems to have only a few requirements: must be a Democrat in good standing, famous names are preferred, no experience necessary.

Hillary Clinton — and Robert Kennedy, who held the seat 40 years ago — had never run for elected office before they came to New York. But they had been living public lives in politics for years.

That's also true of Caroline Kennedy, who had been on the sidelines of the game until earlier this year, when she endorsed Barack Obama for president. The former first daughter, who had shunned publicity most of her life, traveled from city to city vigorously campaigning for him.

People who know Kennedy well say that they weren't surprised she had it in her.

"She has been involved in public policy issues many times in her life before, so this is not something that's totally new to her," Greg Craig, who will serve as Obama's White House counsel, said during the campaign. "The amount of time and attention and focus that she's giving to it is unusual, and I think it's the first time that's she's moved onto the national stage."

What Does She Stand For?

If Paterson picks Kennedy for the seat, everyone will already know her name, but almost no one will know what she stands for. She's a lawyer and author. She's written books on privacy issues and the Bill of Rights, but she is best known for her lighter fare: collections of Christmas memories and poetry.

"I think poetry really is something that does really sustain people and it's really those important times and those deep emotions where I think poetry really captures all of the feelings that we have," Kennedy told NPR in 2006.

Her most notable work in the public sector to date has been as chief fundraiser for New York City's Department of Education, bringing in tens of millions of dollars. But even there, she rarely appeared in public — and never took positions on controversial education issues. Instead, she tends to speak more broadly about the importance of service.

"Only by working with each other and for each other can we make America the nation it should be for us and our children," she has said.

Political Stamina

Although Kennedy and her views have remained mostly hidden, she is still beloved by a generation of Democrats who watched her as a child in the Kennedy White House. Perhaps that accounts for a recent poll, in which about a quarter of New Yorkers said that the governor should pick her as Clinton's successor. Slightly more said Andrew Cuomo — the offspring of another politician, former Gov. Mario Cuomo — should be the next senator.

Whomever the governor picks will need political stamina. That person would need to run for re-election in 2010 and again in 2012. And as Hillary Clinton demonstrated twice, that would mean raising tens of millions of dollars and spending substantial time in upstate New York.

Caroline Kennedy may be a household name, but in parts of the state she's still a Manhattan lawyer who will need to work to get votes.

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