Now voters turn against Kennedy's stuttering campaign

Poll shows lack of public support for bid to secure Clinton's Senate seat
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The nearly royal aura that has clung to Caroline Kennedy from birth has dimmed abruptly as she seeks to navigate her way into the Senate seat that will be vacated by Hillary Clinton if and when she becomes US Secretary of State.

It still seems probable that Mrs Kennedy, 51, rather than any other hopeful from New York State, will be the one packing her trunks and repairing to Washington a few weeks from now. Yet new polling data suggests that her efforts to win public support for her quest have backfired badly.

Most discouraging for her is asurvey released by Public Policy Polling which indicates that voters in New York are falling away from Mrs Kennedy faster than needles from a dead Christmas tree. Worse, they overwhelmingly favour another to take the seat, a certain Andrew Cuomo.

Mrs Kennedy and her rivals are not engaged in a campaign where the voters will decide their fate. Who ends up becoming the Empire State's junior senator will be determined solely by its Governor, David Patterson. Nonetheless, anyone hoping to catch his eye, Mrs Kennedy included, found it necessary to tour the state a little, talk to voters and also reporters.

She has done none of this with much in the way of visible skill, however. So bumbling were some of the interviews over the holiday period that some wags dared to call her the Sarah Palin of the Democratic Party.

Mrs Kennedy has managed variously to seem utterly opaque while lacking in the basic skills of plain speaking. There has been not a little mockery of her dependence in conversation on the verbal filler, "you know". She was heard to utter it 138 times in a conversation with reporters from The New York Times. In a single TV interview she reportedly galloped past the 200 mark. That's a lot of you knows.

And while a certain rough-around-the-edges quality does not necessarily harm political newcomers if they have some kind of populist pitch – think Ms Palin – it hardly fits with the likes of Mrs Kennedy, whose pedigree is not quite of the hockey rink variety.

All of which may explain the dismal numbers in the new poll published in Newsday and elsewhere. Some 44 per cent of New Yorkers say they have a lesser opinion of Mrs Kennedy since she declared her interest in the seat. They also favoured Mr Cuomo, the son of the former governor, Mario Cuomo, and currently the Attorney General in the state, by 58 to 27 per cent.

"When Caroline Kennedy was first mentioned as a possible Senate appointee, there was a lot of enthusiasm among New York Democrats for her," Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling, noted, before adding: "Her reputation has taken a clear hit over the last month ... she has some work to do to overcome this bad first impression she's made on New York voters."

Aside from Mr Cuomo, other possible rivals for Mr Patterson's attention include a popular New York congresswoman, Carolyn Maloney, who may take comfort from the new poll numbers. Because until now, competing against a Kennedy has not been easy.

"If this is a celebrity beauty contest, I am not going to win," Ms Maloney told The New York Times yesterday. "But if people want to look at someone's record and their service and their work to help people, I think I have a chance."

Mr Patterson has said he will make no decision before the confirmation of Mrs Clinton as Secretary of State, which is probably several weeks away. Many pundits believe he will find it hard to resist the pull of Mrs Kennedy, not least because of her money-raising abilities and her close relationship with President-elect Barack Obama. If she takes the seat she will have two years to polish her game before being obliged to run in an election to hold on to it.

"Monumentally irrelevant," was the reading of the poll numbers by Gerald Benjamin, professor of politics at the State University of New York. "A decline in her public reputation isn't measuring anything," he said. "And if she were to become the US senator and had two years to perform in a highly visible position, measures at this juncture would be inconsequential."