By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy, will seek appointment to the Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), according a spokesman for her campaign.
Kennedy is actively campaigning for the appointment and made telephone calls to influential Democrats in the state yesterday to seek their support -- among them Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, who endorsed her candidacy last night, and New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn.
Kennedy's name was floated several weeks ago as a possible replacement for Clinton, who has been tapped by President-elect Barack Obama to head the State Department. Kennedy spoke this month with New York Gov. David A. Paterson (D), who will be charged with filling the seat if Clinton is confirmed.
Paterson was noncommittal about Kennedy's prospects. "I've had a number of conversations with a number of people who are interested," he said yesterday. "I have returned a couple of calls from her but have not spoken to her since the initial conversation. Obviously, people are interested and would like to come in and present their case, and if they ask for that time, I'll grant it to them."
A slew of Democrats have been mentioned as potential Clinton replacements, the most prominent of whom include Kennedy, Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and state Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, the son of a former governor.
Paterson has been reluctant to tip his hand, but the weeks since Kennedy's emergence as a possible candidate have been punctuated by a behind-the-scenes battle between her backers and Clinton allies.
The Clintonites have made it clear that they remain unhappy that Kennedy endorsed Obama during the Democratic primaries and have voiced concern that Clinton's Senate seat would be handed off to a New Yorker who did not support her presidential bid.
Last week, Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.) questioned Kennedy's readiness for office. "I don't know what Caroline Kennedy's qualifications are," Ackerman said in a radio interview. "Except that she has name recognition, but so does J-Lo ," he said, referring to actress-singer Jennifer Lopez.
The Kennedy forces -- led by Kerry Kennedy, Caroline's cousin and Cuomo's ex-wife -- have taken to the television airwaves to argue for their candidate. They got a somewhat unexpected boost from the Rev. Al Sharpton, who spoke with Kennedy by phone yesterday.
"Since the possibility of Ms. Kennedy's candidacy for the Senate has, understandably, already generated a fair degree of debate and discussion, I feel compelled to state that I unequivocally disagree with those that say she is not qualified and could not bring needed leadership to this state and country," Sharpton said.
Kennedy endorsed Obama in a New York Times op-ed during the heat of the primary season and helped lead the search for his running mate, and some Democrats say his victory may have played a significant role in changing her attitude toward elected office.
If she wins the appointment, Kennedy will face a special election in 2010 for the remaining two years in Clinton's term and another election in 2012 for the full six-year term. Her nearly universal name recognition and assumed fundraising potential could make her a formidable nominee.