The start of Caroline Kennedy’s “listening tour” was awfully hard to hear.
So far, her first foray into politics has been one of private meetings, brief appearances and unanswered questions about what she would do, say and think if chosen as New York’s next US senator.
It’s a similar strategy to the one Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton employed successfully in 1999 to meet and listen to residents and politicians before the 2000 Senate race, but with a big difference: Kennedy’s really campaigning for only one voter — New York Governor David Paterson.
He has the sole responsibility for naming a successor if Clinton is confirmed as US president-elect Barack Obama’s secretary of state.
“It is not a campaign,” Kennedy said after a private meeting with Democratic officials in Rochester.
Yet there is an intense lobbying effort under way to persuade the people who can persuade the governor to make her a senator.
In that, the 51-year-old daughter of late president John F. Kennedy is no different than the dozen or so other Senate hopefuls — but her effort has been far more closely scrutinized because she has never run for office and little is known about her politics, personality or priorities.
A big part of Kennedy’s effort is trying to convince upstate political bosses that she sees beyond the skyscrapers of Manhattan.
Upstate New Yorkers feel chronically ignored by New York’s political leadership, especially now that the governor and both senators live in or near New York City.
The region that sprawls from New York City’s suburbs to the Canadian border and west to Lake Erie has been in the economic doldrums for years, long before the financial meltdown.
If Clinton wins confirmation early next year, Paterson will appoint someone to the seat for two years.
Kennedy stumbled in her first public appearance on Wednesday in Syracuse. She met privately for an hour with local politicians, then spoke to reporters for 30 seconds before being hustled away by an aide.
Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll said she “seemed pleasant” and added: “I think she’s certainly well-read.”
Former federal prosecutor Dan French said she would return to Syracuse to talk more.
“People need to let her jump into this,” French said. “She’s doing everything she can to meet people and hear from people, and she’s just begun.”
The trip did not get good reviews.
“A drive-by visit,” the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle called it, urging her to come back and speak publicly to real people, not politicians.