In the hours after city papers first reported that Caroline Kennedy was withdrawing her bid for the Senate seat, New York sank in utter confusion. For a brief period of time, it even looked like Kennedy had a hold on the Senate seat after all!
At the end of the night, Kennedy put an end to it all by issuing a statement officially withdrawing her name from consideration. But the chaotic circumstances that preceded her announcement raise questions as to what really went on: did Kennedy really want to withdraw? and who first launched the withdrawal rumors - Kennedy or (in a truly complex twist) David Paterson?
The night took its first turn to the absurd hours earlier, when MSNBC quoted sources close to Kennedy saying that said that she had not withdrawn. The fact that Paterson and Kennedy’s camps were both staying silent created further confusion: Why would they not confirm or deny the story?
Later, it was the AP’s turn to issue a correction in a clearly-worded story that said that Kennedy was still interested in the seat (”After wavering briefly, Caroline Kennedy renewed her determination Wednesday.”) Next, the New York Times updated its story, claiming that Kennedy had indeed decided to withdraw before talking to the Governor again, changing her mind and writing a statement reasserting her interest (the NYT even claimed having been read a draft of that statement).
At that point, it looked fairly certain that Kennedy was Paterson’s pick. Indeed, would Kennedy take the risk of reasserting her interest in the seat if Paterson had not clearly told her that she would be appointed?
Yet, the night took one more turn when Kennedy’s statement confirmed her withdrawal rather than backing up the New York Times and AP stories: “I informed Governor Paterson today that for personal reasons I am withdrawing my name from consideration for the United States Senate.”
From the Times:
After frantic talks between the governor’s operation and Ms. Kennedy’s camp Wednesday evening, Ms. Kennedy appeared to waver on whether to withdraw, and was preparing a statement reasserting her interest in the job. But just after midnight, she decided to make clear she was taking her name out of consideration and released the statement saying so.
So what happened? There are a few possibilities, that I try to outline below.
1. Face value: The first option is for us to take everything at face value and believe that Kennedy was actually confused enough to go back and forth all day. Perhaps she did not want to be Senator, perhaps she was actually concerned with Teddy’s health. I would even be willing to believe that the reason Kennedy did not confirm her withdrawal for so long is that she was getting angry phone calls from the likes of Mike Bloomberg and all the New York politicians who had jumped on her bandwagon - calls that actually made her waver before she issued an official statement. (In any case, this certainly would not bode well for the way in which Kennedy intended to treat her senatorial office.)
2. Too late: The second option is that Kennedy was sincere about her desire to withdraw at first, but not by the end of the night. In other words, Kennedy told Paterson that she was not interested in the seat and told her mind later (either because she was wavering all along or because she received angry phone calls). Yet, according to this scenario, her indecisiveness angered the Governor by showing her as too weak to become Senator; by the time she talked to Paterson at 11:30pm, he indicated his disapproval, leaving her no choice but to withdraw once again.
3. Boxed in by Paterson: The third option is that Kennedy did not want to withdraw, but was forced to do so to save face after she knew that she would not be picked. Now, here is where things get interesting. Initially, the hypothesis seemed most plausible was that Kennedy had been told sometime this afternoon that she was not be picked and thus proceeded to leak the news that she was withdrawing.
Yet, had this been true why would she not have issued a quick confirmation to make the story plausible? The fact is that Kennedy released a statement withdrawing from the race hours after the news first broke, after family members were quoted by MSNBC denying the story and after her camp reportedly held “frantic” phone calls with the Governor’s office!
In other words, the initial hypothesis simply does not hold up against the series of events. What seems most probable is that Kennedy was only told she would not be the pick after someone leaked the news that she was withdrawing! Only during those 11:30pm phone calls did Paterson tell Kennedy that she was out, which made her immediately fire her a withdrawal statement.
This raises a further - and fascinating question: Who was that “someone” who leaked the news that she was withdrawing before any definite conversation had taken place between Kennedy and Paterson?
First, it could have been Kennedy herself: Her camp might have been wanting to figure out whether Paterson was leaning towards her or not in order to avoid a potential humiliation; they thus organized this circus to get an answer out of him. But this seems like a very risky proposition to me: after all, they ran a very high risk of angering Paterson and making him change his mind even if he had selected her.
Second, the rumor could have been spread by Paterson himself! According to this scenario, Paterson wanted to escape the indignity of having to publicly reject one of the incoming President’s good friends, so he let leaked false information according to which Kennedy was withdrawing before telling her anything; he added information according to which he was ready to offer her the job if she had wanted it. The Kennedy camp would certainly have responded with confusion and tried to figure out what was going on - which would explains why it took so long for Kennedy to come out with a statement and why her entourage tried to get her back in the race for hours (going as far as reading the NYT a draft of a denial statement).
In other words: Paterson double-crossed the former first daughter and boxed her into withdrawing, just as she was trying to box him into choosing her.
This is obviously speculation on my part, and a rather sordid one at that. You can take it with a grain of salt, but is it really better to think of Kennedy as a dilettante who confused a Senate seat with a social function? Whatever actually happened, this was a truly confusing night - and we are still waiting for Paterson to make his actual pick public.