03/01/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Was Caroline Kennedy Ever the Real Candidate?

So the very high profile bid for the spot of junior U.S. Senator from New York for Caroline Kennedy is over, and it did not end in a pretty way. She announced last week she was withdrawing her name for "personal reasons" after the rumors started swirling that she wasn't on the short list anymore.

As the press reports started bashing her, and the name of the ultimate Hillary Clinton successor, New York Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand, started hitting the airwaves, I wondered whether Caroline Kennedy had been set up to fail as a cover for the real candidates who were being vetted?

Was Caroline the red herring we were all focusing on so we wouldn't pay attention to what was really going on? It just seems awfully strange to have her go from the front-runner to the no-runner in a split second, even if the personal reasons thing is true.

I'm not trying to start the latest conspiracy theory, but when Caroline Kennedy first announced her interest in the seat, it just didn't feel authentic. If she really had her eye on that political slot and had decided that her 50-something decade had brought on a fire in her belly for the political arena, wouldn't it have been prudent to be a tiny bit discreet? Somehow Kennedy found herself shoved into the 24/7 media spotlight and then had to make the high-profile rounds of upstate, snow-belt cities to convince people she was something more than they thought she was -- the sole survivor of the Kennedy/Camelot era who had spent most of her life avoiding exactly this type of notoreity.

Not to mention that whole 'you-know' thing, you know?

Trust me, I get the whole 'Oh-my-God-I'm-50-what-have-I-been-doing-with-my-life' thing that Kennedy said was one of her motivating factors. But Caroline Kennedy could hardly be described as a stay-at-home mom who had no professional standing on her own. She published a variety of well-received books and worked on a number of high-powered boards. She could pretty much have chosen any new venture for 2009 and have it succeed.

While Kennedy was getting most of the speculation coverage, there was only small mention of other contenders -- Andrew Cuomo, Carolyn Maloney and, a few times, Kirsten Gillibrand. Was Caroline nothing more than cover for New York Governor David Paterson's efforts to court and vet the candidate who would most benefit him? We didn't see any of the other wannabes launching tours around the state or conducting interviews with the media about why they were validly on the list. All the others were strangely quiet.

I don't know. Something doesn't smell quite right and, odds are, we'll never know what was causing the odor. But Caroline Kennedy had little to gain and a lot to lose in terms of personal and political capital by stepping off that ledge and trying to enter the game.

There's more to this story and my gut says that it ultimately came down to Paterson's calculations about which Democrat could keep the seat next time around and who would feel more beholden to him in a fund-raising kind of way when he wants to run for his own election to the New York Governor's seat.

Call me cynical, but I prefer to call myself a realist. When Caroline looked like the goose with the golden campaign finance egg, she was the front-runner. But when political reality set in and Paterson focused on needing some support from conservatives who also could help raise money for him in the future, I'm betting that's what put Gillibrand at the top of the list.

There's no question that Gillibrand has a great resume. And I'm not saying that Caroline Kennedy was the best candidate for the slot. It just feels like there was a real political game going on here that had more to do with Paterson's aspirations than with who would be the best Senator for New York State.

Some believe it's a good thing that Caroline has bowed out in terms of impact on other women who want to make their way in politics. And New Yorkers are apparently placing the blame at Caroline's feet for this whole "messy" process. But Caroline Kennedy ended up suffering the fallout as Paterson worried about his own political future. If I were Paterson, I'd be careful. I have a feeling that Caroline and the rest of the Kennedy clan have a pretty long memory.

Joanne Bamberger is the founder and editor-in-chief of the political blog, PunditMom. Joanne is a professional writer and political/media analyst in the Washington, D.C. area, and is a Contributing Editor for News & Politics for BlogHer.

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