Big guns recruited to sell Kennedy to her doubters

JFK's daughter brings in top Democrat troubleshooter
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The Independent US

Caroline Kennedy has already achieved early front-runner status in the competition to replace Hillary Clinton as a US Senator for the state of New York after moving swiftly to bolster her chances by hiring one of the Democratic Party's best-known political fixers to guide her forward.

In a sign that Ms Kennedy, who previously has shunned the spotlight in spite of her famous name, may prove to be an insuperable force in the scramble for the soon-to-be-vacant seat, she won an enthusiastic endorsement from the New York Post newspaper, owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Word first leaked on Monday that Ms Kennedy, the only surviving child of the late president John F Kennedy, was formally indicating to the Governor of New York, David Patterson, that she was interested in occupying the US Senate. He subsequently confirmed the approach. "She told me was interested in the position," the Governor told reporters. "She realised that it was not a campaign. She'd like at some point to sit down and let me know what her qualifications are."

Mrs Clinton, the former first lady, has been picked by President-elect Barack Obama to serve as his Secretary of State. Assuming she is confirmed quickly by the Senate after the New Year, it will then fall to Governor Patterson to hand-pick her successor until elections in 2010.

Erasing all doubt that she is in earnest, Ms Kennedy recruited Josh Isay, a well-known consultant for Democrats, to help shape her strategy. Past clients of Mr Isay have been Senator Joe Lieberman, who turned to him when he faced possible defeat in elections in Connecticut after he became an independent.

Governor Patterson has stressed that he has made no decision about Mrs Clinton's seat and in theory he has a fairly wide field of possible candidates to pick from, including two prominent New York Congresswomen, Kirsten Gillibrand and Carolyn Maloney, as well as the state Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, who is the son of the former governor and Democratic elder, Mario Cuomo.

While she has high name recognition, few New Yorkers know much about Ms Kennedy or what she has done beyond being the offspring of quasi-royalty. She is asking to be given a seat in the most powerful public institution in the land – the White House aside – even though she has never held an elected office of any description.

It will be Mr Isay's job to introduce New Yorkers to Ms Kennedy, 51, and remind them, for example, of her work earlier this decade as a chief fund-raiser for the New York City public school system, a position in which she, by all accounts, acquitted herself well.

"She's a highly determined woman and she's clearly been thinking about her life and how to make an effective contribution," commented Joel Klein, the chancellor of the school system, to whom she reported. "Everyone knows Caroline, and everyone has a great historical respect for the Kennedy family."

Republicans in the state will not waste time before highlighting her lack of experience. "I have nothing against Caroline Kennedy," said Peter King, a congressman from Long Island who is expected to seek a Senate seat in 2010. "But the fact is that I don't believe anybody has a hereditary right to a Senate seat from New York."

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