01/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

NY Senate Tea Leaves: Paterson And Possible Clinton Replacement Return From Iraq

Gov. David Paterson, the keyholder to the coveted Senate seat in New York, returned on Christmas Eve from a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan with a potential filler of that vacancy.

Rep. Steve Israel accompanied Paterson and fellow Rep. Anthony Weiner at a press conference in the halls of LaGuardia Airport on Wednesday. The topic was the trio's trip to the two war zones -- an educational and important venture, Paterson said, that was appropriate for the holiday season.

But Israel's three-day long private audience with the governor has spurred speculation that he could eventually be asked to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate. As has news that the Long Island congressman hired a former Clinton aide to assist him in winning Paterson's support.

The Senate vacancy was addressed during the question and answer session in the airport terminal, much to Paterson's chagrin. The Governor insisted that he and Israel did not talk about the seat while on the trip.

"Congressman Israel and I wanted to make sure that nobody was upset about the amount of time we were spending over the last three days," he said.

And all three New York pols demonstrated a hybrid of exasperation and cynicism to the press' infatuation with the open seat. When a reporter referred to Caroline Kennedy as the "front-runner," the Governor interjected: "How is she a front-runner?"

Later he would say of the build up to his selection: it is "more like the prelude to a high school prom than the choosing of the United States Senate."

And yet, as much as Paterson and Israel downplayed the significance of them traveling together, there were noteworthy bits to grab from their post-trip news conference. Israel talked about how "profound it was to have the governor of the state of New York" alongside him for what was his six trip to Iraq. And the compliments did not end there:

"This is the first governor of New York since 9/11 to travel to the military theater, to visit with his troops, members of the NY National Guard," he said. "And that's something that was certainly very special to them and special to me."

This, of course, is a limited reading of a media availability largely devoted to recounting a trip to two dangerous war zones. All three lauded the work of New York's 10,000 or so troops overseas. Israel, meanwhile, told an amusing and poignant story about a Jewish soldier in Kabul celebrating Chanukah by himself - "one of the loneliest Chanukahs that anyone can imagine."

But when it comes to the process of choosing a Senate replacement, tea leaves are never left unread. And at one point in the Q&A, Patterson said of the possible Senate replacement: "I think Steve Israel is highly qualified."