With Sen. Ted Kennedy's grave health problems and Caroline Kennedy's sudden abandonment of her Senate quest, the fabled Kennedy dynasty seems to be teetering on collapse. Caroline Kennedy, Ted's niece and JFK's daughter, shocked the state's political class last night when she withdrew her name from consideration as the appointed successor to Hillary Clinton as New York's junior senator
(Clearly, the Empire State got a little upset by all the attention Illinois was garnering with its quite dysfunctional and possibly criminal process in filling a vacant Senate seat.)
She had been long-considered Gov. David Paterson's likely pick. Mayor Michael Bloomberg strongly pushed for her. His top aide worked behind the scenes trying to line up support. President Obama -- who Ted and Caroline endorsed right after his loss in the New Hampshire primary, giving his campaign an essential boost when it needed it most-- was said to be in her corner.
Paterson himself made it clear he wanted someone with both name background and the ability to raise enough money to run consecutive elections (the appointee would have to campaign in 2010 to finish Clinton's unexpired term and then again for a full term in 2012).
But one major cloud hung over the process -- the elephant in the room: Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg wasn't a good candidate.
A media rollout in December was nothing short of a disaster. Far from displaying the trademark Kennedy eloquence and charisma, Caroline's pre-New Year's interviews were punctuated with "ums" and "you knows." She irritated a city and state dominated by Democrats by equivocating on whether she would support the Democratic candidate for mayor later this year. She thus looked like she was in the tank for her friend and quasi-mentor, the independent and sometime Republican Mayor Bloomberg. She hadn't even voted in several recent elections.
Unfavorable comparisons to Sarah Palin emerged, as she had no real command of issues, and little public experience except volunteering on public education charities. No wonder recent polls indicated a clear public mood shift away from Caroline toward yet another dynastic choice -- Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
Yet while Kennedy's Senate withdrawal is somewhat shocking -- it shouldn't really be that much of a surprise. If anything she is rather symbolic of the current Kennedy clan. The name is not what it once was. Arguably, the Bush family may have eclipsed the Kennedys as the "First of First Families" -- having elected two presidents and a possible third in waiting (ex-Florida Gov. Jeb, who recently decided not to run for the Senate in 2010).
Caroline's cousin, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend had a disastrous run for Maryland governor in 2002 -- losing the office to a Republican in a state where the GOP hadn't been victorious in 35 years. The only member of the younger generation to have much electoral success in recent years is Teddy's son, Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy.
The fact that the new front-runner for the seat previously inhabited by the wife of former President Bill Clinton may be Andrew Cuomo -- son of former Gov. Mario -- shows that dynastic politics isn't completely dead yet.
However, Caroline's stepping aside may show that one particular dynasty is running on fumes.
Camelot died a long time ago.