early and often

Chris Smith: Caroline’s Quiet Rebound

It’s been a pretty good week for Caroline Kennedy’s non-campaign campaign — and she certainly needs it. True, one poll showed a drastic drop in her popularity with voters, but that same polling company had shown her with an enormous, equally dubious lead one month earlier, and she’s still in a race that will be decided by a single, inscrutable voter. Kennedy’s chances of being picked to replace Hillary Clinton as the state’s junior senator have improved for two reasons.

After her weak performance in a post-Christmas interview blitz, and the beating she took in the papers and online, the ineluctable media curve has moved on to unflattering scrutiny of her competitors — particularly Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, whose political lieutenant has been strong-arming labor leaders to not endorse Kennedy. Today she even collected some rare positive ink in the Times, a ferocious op-ed-page endorsement from Maureen Dowd.

The other part of the equation is that Kennedy has gone back to the unglamorous, quiet work of calling and visiting the state’s political players — union heads, environmental leaders, Sister Paulette LoMonaco of Good Shepherd Services, the Bronx and Brooklyn children’s aid group. It’s a strategy that both suits her low-key personal style and is designed to influence Governor David Paterson without pressuring him, by creating a positive buzz behind the scenes. So instead of traveling to Albany today and pulling the spotlight again, Kennedy stayed home to watch Paterson’s State of the State speech on television.

She’ll maintain that low profile next week and avoid what could have been a dramatic appearance. On January 15, Reverend Al Sharpton will hold his annual Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration in Harlem, an event that’s become nearly a requirement for the state’s aspiring and current elected officials. Sharpton, who praised Kennedy after sharing a very public lunch at Sylvia’s with her in December, invited her to the MLK event and expected that she’d attend. But a Kennedy spokesman says she has an “unfortunate scheduling conflict.” “No problem,” Sharpton says. Could the conflict have anything to do with the expected presence of Andrew Cuomo, her main Senate rival and ex-cousin-in-law? “No,” says the Kennedy spokesman. In January 2006, then-candidate Cuomo was criticized for skipping Sharpton’s celebration to give a paid speech in Las Vegas. Four months later, Cuomo donated $10,000 to Sharpton’s nonprofit National Action Network. And he hasn’t missed the MLK event since.

Chris Smith: Caroline’s Quiet Rebound