When reports began to circulate a few weeks ago that President-elect Obama was likely to name Sen. Hillary Clinton to run the State Department, there was much discussion about who would be named by New York Gov. David Paterson to replace her.  The state’s attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, was the one who seemed to have something close to an inside track.  Longtime environmental activist Robert Kennedy Jr. was considered a long shot.  His cousin, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, was considered a very long shot, having never expressed an interest in holding political office, and having almost never appeared on the campaign trail over the years unless it was to support a family member (apart from a few dramatic appearances supporting Obama last spring).
Then the ground began to shift after Hillary was actually nominated to the Cabinet.  Last Monday Robert Kennedy announced he was taking himself out of consideration for the soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat.  For some bloggers, this seemed to suggest something might be in the works.  Then yesterday, the cat came out of the bag when Kennedy confirmed that his cousin Caroline was, indeed, not only interested in being appointed to the seat, but in running in 2010 to complete Hillary’s term, and presumably running again in 2012, were she to enter the Senate.  Gov. Paterson later told the New York Times that Ms. Schlossberg had phoned him to ask some questions about the seat but had not specifically expressed an interest in being appointed to it.

This is a rather dramatic development.  For over 55 years, apart from 1960 to 1962 when a former college roommate of John F. Kennedy kept the Massachusetts Senate seat warm while Teddy was waiting to be constitutionally eligible to take it over, a member of this family has sat in the Senate; only the half-century between 1933 and 1983 when Harry F. Byrd Sr. and Jr. represented Virginia in the upper chamber is comparable.   Since it is extremely uncertain that Sen. Ted Kennedy will complete his current term, it is not surprising that the Kennedy family seems to have been who among the second generation of Joseph Kennedy Sr’s descendants would take the torch when the time came to pass it.

And when it comes to such matters, the Hyannisport clan is still as hard-nosed as ever.  Though there’s been some talk of Joseph Kennedy II succeeding his uncle, it’s rather evident that he just doesn’t have the kind of heft to guarantee getting through the Democratic primary.  Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island is unlikely to succeed either of that state’s Senators.  And it may be that Robert Kennedy, as ambitious as he has always been, took a hard look at the facts and finally acknowledged that his conviction for heroin possession in the early 1980s is in a different category of youthful folly from the casual drug use acknowledged by the Prtesident-elect.

And so the one surviving child of our 35th President seems poised to enter the political fray, despite an absence of experience apart from waving on podiums and the promotion of higher standards in the New York school system.  It’s telling that upon learning of Caroline’s interest Eleanor Smeal, the head of the Feminist Majority, told the Times that her organization’s endorsement of Rep. Carolyn Maloney for Sen. Clinton’s seat might have to be rethought.

But Ms. Schlossberg would certainly have to change her style of living to no inconsiderable degree if she came to Washington.  Until now she was content to raise her family and determinedly avoid the public eye apart from the aforementioned events and some appearances at the JFK Library in Boston.  But in the Senate she would be facing the press and appearing before cameras almost every day; is she really prepared for that?

It’s true that Robert Kennedy Jr said yesterday that all his kin would come out in force to help her campaign – or, as he put it, “you’ll see more Kennedys than you’ve ever seen before,” presumably including all the third and fourth cousins from the remotest parts of County Wexford.  But can all that keep Camelot going for another half-century?  And when does the next generation come into the picture?  (The oldest of their number, Kathleen Kennedy Townshend’s daughter Meaghan, is now 31 – at which age two of her greatuncles were already on Capitol Hill.)  Before long there may be some answers to those questions.