Transcript

Caroline Kennedy to Seek N.Y. Senate Seat

Daughter of the late US president John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, addresses the Democratic National Convention 2008 at the Pepsi Center in Denver on August 25, 2008. The Democrats formally opened their convention to crown Barack Obama as the first black presidential nominee in US history. AFP PHOTO/Paul J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images) (Paul J. Richards -- AFP/getty Images)
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Ben Pershing
washingtonpost.com Congressional Blogger
Monday, December 15, 2008; 4:00 PM

Caroline Kennedy has decided to seek appointment to the Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton, according to a Democratic source familiar with the decision.

Kennedy's decision comes several weeks after her name was first floated as a possible replacement for Clinton, following a phone conversation she had with New York Gov. David Paterson. Paterson, who took over for Gov. Elliot Spitzer earlier this year, has the sole power to appoint the next senator.

Washingtonpost.com congressional blogger Ben Pershing was online Monday, Dec. 15, at 4 p.m. ET to discuss immediate reaction to the decision.

A transcript follows.

Video: Kennedys Endorse Obama (AP, January)

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Washington, D.C.: Isn't the talk about her being able to raise more money than anyone else to run in 2010 and 2012 to help Paterson on the Democratic ticket the same as the Illinois governor is doing but with more class?

Does anyone even know where Caroline Kennedy stands on most issues?

Ben Pershing: I guess it all depends on your perspective. It may seem crass that her fundraising is such a big consideration, but that's just a fact of modern campaigning. Especially in New York, where you need to spend well upwards of $20 million just to get into the conversation.

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Ben Pershing: Hi folks. What a busy afternoon of political news -- topped by the revelation that Caroline Kennedy is interesting in succeeding Hillary Clinton in the Senate. What do you all think? Is she a good or bad choice? Let's chat about it.

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Washington, D.C.: Any reaction from the Clinton camp?

Ben Pershing: None yet, but seeing how Hillary Clinton and her allies react would be one of the most interesting aspects of this story if Kennedy does indeed get the appointment. Remember that the Clintons were none too pleased that Caroline backed Obama in the Democratic primary, and they were similarly unhappy with her Uncle Ted. At the very least, it seems that Hillary would want to approve of whomever is picked to succeed her.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: I wonder if the Illinois scandal is leading to more transparency in the selection of the New York Senate seat? I would think that people would be wary of making secret back room deals.

Ben Pershing: That's a very good point. It seems that every few years there is a controversial Senate appointment and there is lots of talk that special elections are really a better way to go. Flash back a few years in Alaska, for instance, when Frank Murkowski was elected governor and then appointed his daughter Lisa to replace him in the Senate. Moves like that -- and the Blagojevich scandal -- make many voters wonder why the governor gets to name someone at all, even if it is just for two years.

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washningtonpost.com: The Rundown (Political Browser)

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Richmond, Va.: With all due respect to Ms. Kennedy/Schlossberg, she has done little in the ways of career besides co-authoring books on our Constitution. I also know and understand our U.S. Constitution. I am neither interested in being nor qualified to be a senator for any state. What makes this woman qualified to be a senator? Thank you.

Ben Pershing: Well, what makes anyone qualified to be a senator? I'm not belittling your question -- I think it's a good one -- just making the point that there are no hard and fast rules on these things. You can certainly argue that Caroline Kennedy has very little relevant experience and is getting the job only because of her name. That's what Richard Bradley argued in an interesting piece in Sunday's WashPost Outlook section. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton faced similar criticism back in 2000, and she turned out to be what most observers thought was a pretty competent senator.

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washningtonpost.com: She's No Jack Kennedy (Post, Dec. 14)

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Blago fallout?: In the wake of the allegations of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich selling President-elect barack Obama's Senate seat, isn't New York Gov. David Paterson almost compelled to appoint the best-qualified member of his state's delegation to the House of Representatives to fill Hillary Clinton's Senate seat?

Ben Pershing: Picking someone who's obviously well-qualified would certainly be the safest move for Paterson. But this is somewhat different that the Blagojevich case in that I don't think anyone would accuse Paterson of soliciting bribes if he appointed Kennedy. She is a great fundraiser but the idea here is not that she would raise so much money for Paterson himself, but that she would raise it to help her own reelection. Whereas in Illinois, Blagojevich didn't care whether his appointee could get reelected as much as he (allegedly) cared that the appointee would raise scads of cash for Blagojevich himself.

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Boston, Mass.: As a Massachusetts liberal, I am really saddened that the idea that so offended the original Massachusetts liberals -- the inter-familial passing of power and privilege -- has become the defacto process in American politics. I don't dislike Caroline Kennedy, but I do have a strong distaste for handing someone a plum position because of their last name!

Ben Pershing: It seems that if you ask the average American in a poll whether political positions should be inherited, or based on a family name, they'd say no. But then you see that Hillary Clinton just came very close to getting the Democratic nomination, in a race to succeed George W. Bush. And Jeb Bush may run for senate in Florida after having been a longtime governor. And there's already one Kennedy in the Senate and another in the House. And on and on it goes ...

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Omaha, Neb.: With all due respect, Hillary had accomplished a great deal as a lawyer, advocate for children and women and health care both nationally and internationally.

Ben Pershing: She absolutely had. And Caroline Kennedy is a Columbia Law grad, member of the bar, very active in public education, has run a number of charities, and so on. Maybe she's not quite as experienced as Hillary Clinton was, but it's all a matter of degree. Neither had held public office, both had famous names.

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Upstate New York: Isn't it about time for New York to have a senator from Upstate? How long has it been?

Ben Pershing: You have a legitimate grievance there. That's why there has been talk of perhaps appointing Kirsten Gillibrand, who represents the Albany area. I don't actually know the answer to your question about the last senator from Upstate? Does any of our fine readers know? If yes, send your answer along.

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washningtonpost.com: Video: Caroline Kennedy to Seek Senate Seat (AP, Dec. 15)

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Washington, D.C.: Caroline Kennedy has zero campaign skills. She can't even read a speech correctly, much less make a stump speech. She would draw numerous, competent Republicans and possibly Democratic challengers. She would make New York a battleground state, assuming she wins the off-year election in 2010.

Ben Pershing: Caroline Kennedy would have to do pretty badly in office (and that's if she gets the appointment; let's not get ahead of ourselves) for this to be a reallt competitive race in 2010. UNLESS -- yes, capital letters -- Rudy Giuliani decides to run. Other than Rudy it's tough to see any Republican making a really strong bid for this seat. The GOP's bench is very thin in this state, and you really need to have a ton of money and statewide name recognition to make a legitimate run.

If Rudy runs, then it would be a race no matter who the Democratic incumbent is. But I don't think he'll run.

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San Diego, Calif.: "On the other hand, Hillary Clinton faced similar criticism back in 2000, and she turned out to be what most observers thought was a pretty competent senator."

Perhaps, but at least she got herself elected. Could you please discuss who the other leading candidates are and their qualifications? I know Cuomo is one but there have to be dozens if not hundreds better qualified than Caroline Kennedy. Have any of these other candidates reacted to her possible appointment?

Ben Pershing: It's too early to have any real reaction yet from the other contenders. Andrew Cuomo is another strong candidate -- and another famous name! -- who has his own bad blood with the Kennedys. Remember, he went through a messy divorce from Kerry Kennedy (Bobby's daughter, Caroline's cousin). And some House members have been mentioned, including the aforementioned Gillibrand and Steve Israel. Tom Suozzi, the Nassau County Executive, and Byron Brown, the mayor of Buffalo (yay Upstate!) have also been mentioned. All of those people are current elected public officials with real constituencies, something Kennedy doesn't have.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Why would anyone give money to Caroline Kennedy to run for the United States Senate? Certainly she has enough money to pay for her own campaign! I can't see that being any advantage for her at all, especially over office holders with already-in-place fundraising machines. This is a boneheaded move by a rookie governor afraid to antagonize any of the many factions in his own party.

Ben Pershing: It is a good test for Paterson, who is himself kind of the accidental governor. There's no real reason he has to name Caroline Kennedy. What would happen to him if he didn't? He's already governor, I don't think he plans to run for president, and it's not like the entire state Democratic establishement is unified on this anyway.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: Hi Ben -- Does anyone have a sense of why Ms. Kennedy is seeking the seat? It always seemed to me that she preferred picking and choosing when to be a more public person -- which seemed to be relatively rare, instead preferring to maintain a more private life. Is there a sense that, as the only surviving child of JFK, and given her uncle's grave health situation, that it falls to her to continue the legacy? I just wonder how pressured she feels, or if she really wants to do this.

Ben Pershing: Up until just a few days ago a lot of smart political observers really thought she would not throw her hat in the ring, for precisely the reasons you outline. We'll have to wait for some extended public remarks from her to find out what, if anything, changed. The two main theories I've heard are a) she genuinely is inspired by Obama and wants to work with him; and b) Ted Kennedy's poor health has her worried about who will carry on the family legacy.

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Upstate N.Y. Senator: Charles Goodell, senator from 1968-71. He was from Jamestown, and was appointed to the Senate after RFK was assassinated.

Ben Pershing: Thank you, unnamed question answerer. That's 37 years since New York has had a senator from Upstate. Doesn't seem fair, does it?

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American Political Dynasties: One reason political dynasties (Kennedys, Clintons, Bushes, Bidens) flourish in the U.S., in spite of our apparent distaste for them, is that it is fantastically expensive to stage a campaign. For whatever reason, these dynastic families have an easier time raising money than the rest of us. It doesn't mean that the electorate is confused or mistaken. Just that the dynasties have an easier time getting in the door.

Ben Pershing: That's true. The voters don't always have much of a choice in these matters.

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Fairfax, Va.: Meh. How had Bobby Kennedy "earned" that seat in 1964? How had Hillary Clinton "earned" that seat in 2000, for that matter? At least Caroline actually has real ties to New York!

Ben Pershing: True, at least Caroline Kennedy would not be a carpetbagger, the way her unluce was in '64.

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San Francisco, Calif.: What, exactly, is Rudy's base in New York state? He's hated in NYC and upstate. Is there some other part of New York state you think he could win?

Ben Pershing: Yeah, he's got a lot of enemies now. But I think most Republicans would still support him and at least some Independents. He would at least make it competitive becayse he would have tons of money and universal name ID. How many other Republicans can say that?

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Ben Pershing: Thanks for the great questions everyone. Have a good night.

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