Caroline Kennedy Withdraws Senate Bid

Caroline Kennedy has ended her bid to win appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton and once held by her late uncle, Bobby Kennedy. In a statement released early Thursday, Kennedy says she told New York Gov. David Patterson she is withdrawing for personal reasons. She was considered a favorite for the New York Senate seat, though she has never held elective office.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Now, to a closely watched political story: Caroline Kennedy has ended her bid for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. After a series of conflicting reports, Kennedy issued a one-sentence statement earlier today. She told New York's governor, who will appoint Hillary Clinton's replacement, that she's withdrawing for personal reasons. NPR's Robert Smith is covering this story and joins us now from our New York bureau. Good morning.

ROBERT SMITH: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Well, so it was earlier today - it was early in the morning - or rather, probably, late at night, if you think of it that way. She was considered a favorite for the New York Senate seat, for awhile there even, though she never held elected office. Why with the withdrawal now?

SMITH: Well, once again, her statement just said personal reasons. It was only 21 words; it was very terse. It came out after midnight. But NPR talked to a source close to Caroline Kennedy, who said she was influenced by the health of her uncle, Senator Edward Kennedy. As you know, he's battling an aggressive form of brain cancer, and he collapsed this week during an inauguration event. And the source says that this was weighing on her for personal reasons. I should say, some news outlets are reporting that she wasn't going to get the job anyway from Governor David Paterson, and that perhaps she withdrew to avoid embarrassment.

MONTAGNE: You know, in recent weeks, Kennedy had won over some key political leaders in New York. But speaking of embarrassment, I mean, she was embarrassed by, you know, comments made on how she spoke when, you know, in her public speaking, her uhs and ahs. And you know, she also had some detractors. This couldn't have been fun for her.

SMITH: Oh, no. This was the most botched political debut that I've seen in a long time. I mean, you have to remember the kind of hopes people had for Caroline Kennedy. When it was floated that she was a possibility to get Hillary Clinton's job, I think people of a certain generation, baby boomers especially, thought, wow, the daughter of the late John F. Kennedy, sort of entering the family business for the first time, and someone who has been active in philanthropic circles here in New York City. They thought it was a great idea.

She had a lot of public support, but fairly quickly, she showed that she wasn't up to this kind of really political campaign as she tried to convince the governor. She wouldn't talk to the media at first. And then when she did, she was inarticulate. We'll put that kindly. And she revealed that she'd only voted in about half the recent elections. And time after time, people saw someone who was not showing the kind of grace that they expected from a Kennedy and certainly not the kind of political savvy they expected from a Kennedy.

MONTAGNE: Governor Paterson is expected to name a replacement for Hillary Clinton in the next few days. With Caroline Kennedy out, who has the best shot?

SMITH: Well, we can never know what the governor's thinking at this point. But the name that's been floated most often is our state's popular attorney general, Andrew Cuomo. He is the son of Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York. And Cuomo has a huge approval rating in New York. He's already won a statewide race. He is a good bet for one of the top names for the position. But Governor Paterson has said that he would look strongly at naming a woman to the seat, to Hillary Clinton's seat. He would like to name someone from upstate New York. And one of the names that comes up is a representative, Kirsten Gillibrand. She's 42 years old, a mother of two. She's only been in Congress a couple of years, but she's shown that she can win in a conservative district, like upstate New York.

MONTAGNE: Whoever the governor appoints, of course, that term will be very brief.

SMITH: Very brief. In two years, they have to run again in a special election. And two years after that, they have to run for the seat, again, to - for reelection.

MONTAGNE: Robert, thanks very much.

SMITH: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Robert Smith speaking from New York, on news that Caroline Kennedy has withdrawn from consideration for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton.

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Caroline Kennedy Drops Bid For Senate Seat

Caroline Kennedy withdrew from consideration for the U.S. Senate seat once held by her slain uncle, Robert Kennedy, after a night of turmoil and uncertainty over her intentions.

"I informed Governor Paterson today that for personal reasons I am withdrawing my name from consideration for the United States Senate," she said in a one-sentence statement released after midnight. Her uncle, Sen. Edward Kennedy, suffered a seizure on Inauguration Day.

Spokesmen for Caroline Kennedy and for New York Gov. David Paterson, who will make the appointment to fill the seat, wouldn't comment.

The hours of mixed signals Wednesday night and early Thursday were the latest twist in the Kennedy effort, which began with popular support that withered after she drew criticism in her brief upstate tour and early press interviews.

Public opinion polls showed that about half of New Yorkers said that Kennedy, the 51-year-old daughter of former President John F. Kennedy, wasn't qualified to be senator.

On Tuesday, Paterson acknowledged that he is considering Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for appointment to the Senate seat. The two Democrats had refused since early December to say if Cuomo is in the running.

"He has outstanding qualities and is someone I am considering," Paterson told Bob Schieffer, chief Washington correspondent for CBS News, and CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric.

"I am not paying much attention to the polls in this case," Paterson said. "Originally, she was ahead, then he's ahead. But these are recognition polls.

"There are eight other people whose names are not known, who are outstanding. And, given the opportunity, will be as well-known as some of the candidates whose names are more well-known," he said.

Paterson has been criticized by good-government groups for a secretive selection process that he defends as essential to making the best choice without regard to traditional campaigning. Paterson and Cuomo were also criticized for refusing to say whether Cuomo was interested in the Senate seat or had applied, putting him in the enviable political position of avoiding the perception of a loss.

Paterson has said the conversations were confidential under attorney-client privilege, a legal view questioned by experts in recent interviews with The Associated Press. Cuomo said he would allow only Paterson to divulge those discussions because it was the governor's process.

Paterson insisted again Tuesday that he hasn't made a decision but said he plans to announce his choice by the weekend.

Among the other hopefuls are three members of the U.S. House: Carolyn Maloney of New York City, Kirsten Gillibrand of the Hudson Valley-Albany, and Steve Israel of Long Island. Also in the mix are Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and Buffalo-area Rep. Brian Higgins.

Cuomo, popular in his first term as attorney general, was considered a likely contender by several Democrats because his appointment would head off a potential primary for governor against Paterson in 2010. Cuomo ran a 2002 primary against then-Comptroller H. Carl McCall, who went on to lose his bid to be New York's first black governor when Republican Gov. George Pataki won his third term.

"He's told me he doesn't want to run against me," Paterson said of his private conversations with Cuomo.

With that statement, Paterson added a new element to Albany's political speculation, because Cuomo has never ruled out a run for governor in 2010.

Cuomo declined through a spokesman to comment Tuesday.

From The Associated Press and NPR reports.

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