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Caroline Kennedy Withdraws Senate Bid

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Now, to a closely watched political story: Caroline Kennedy has ended her bid for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. After a series of conflicting reports, Kennedy issued a one-sentence statement earlier today. She told New York's governor, who will appoint Hillary Clinton's replacement, that she's withdrawing for personal reasons. NPR's Robert Smith is covering this story and joins us now from our New York bureau. Good morning.

ROBERT SMITH: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Well, so it was earlier today - it was early in the morning - or rather, probably, late at night, if you think of it that way. She was considered a favorite for the New York Senate seat, for awhile there even, though she never held elected office. Why with the withdrawal now?

SMITH: Well, once again, her statement just said personal reasons. It was only 21 words; it was very terse. It came out after midnight. But NPR talked to a source close to Caroline Kennedy, who said she was influenced by the health of her uncle, Senator Edward Kennedy. As you know, he's battling an aggressive form of brain cancer, and he collapsed this week during an inauguration event. And the source says that this was weighing on her for personal reasons. I should say, some news outlets are reporting that she wasn't going to get the job anyway from Governor David Paterson, and that perhaps she withdrew to avoid embarrassment.

MONTAGNE: You know, in recent weeks, Kennedy had won over some key political leaders in New York. But speaking of embarrassment, I mean, she was embarrassed by, you know, comments made on how she spoke when, you know, in her public speaking, her uhs and ahs. And you know, she also had some detractors. This couldn't have been fun for her.

SMITH: Oh, no. This was the most botched political debut that I've seen in a long time. I mean, you have to remember the kind of hopes people had for Caroline Kennedy. When it was floated that she was a possibility to get Hillary Clinton's job, I think people of a certain generation, baby boomers especially, thought, wow, the daughter of the late John F. Kennedy, sort of entering the family business for the first time, and someone who has been active in philanthropic circles here in New York City. They thought it was a great idea.

She had a lot of public support, but fairly quickly, she showed that she wasn't up to this kind of really political campaign as she tried to convince the governor. She wouldn't talk to the media at first. And then when she did, she was inarticulate. We'll put that kindly. And she revealed that she'd only voted in about half the recent elections. And time after time, people saw someone who was not showing the kind of grace that they expected from a Kennedy and certainly not the kind of political savvy they expected from a Kennedy.

MONTAGNE: Governor Paterson is expected to name a replacement for Hillary Clinton in the next few days. With Caroline Kennedy out, who has the best shot?

SMITH: Well, we can never know what the governor's thinking at this point. But the name that's been floated most often is our state's popular attorney general, Andrew Cuomo. He is the son of Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York. And Cuomo has a huge approval rating in New York. He's already won a statewide race. He is a good bet for one of the top names for the position. But Governor Paterson has said that he would look strongly at naming a woman to the seat, to Hillary Clinton's seat. He would like to name someone from upstate New York. And one of the names that comes up is a representative, Kirsten Gillibrand. She's 42 years old, a mother of two. She's only been in Congress a couple of years, but she's shown that she can win in a conservative district, like upstate New York.

MONTAGNE: Whoever the governor appoints, of course, that term will be very brief.

SMITH: Very brief. In two years, they have to run again in a special election. And two years after that, they have to run for the seat, again, to - for reelection.

MONTAGNE: Robert, thanks very much.

SMITH: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Robert Smith speaking from New York, on news that Caroline Kennedy has withdrawn from consideration for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Robert Smith
Robert Smith is a host for NPR's Planet Money where he tells stories about how the global economy is affecting our lives.
Renee Montagne
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
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