The Kennedys face a different challenge—one of succession. For a while it seemed Joseph P. Kennedy II, Robert's oldest son, would become the torchbearer, but his political career fizzled after a failed gubernatorial bid and a high-profile divorce. Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend looked like a possibility, too, but her gubernatorial defeat in 2002 seems to have stalled her career. Rep. Patrick Kennedy has had a steady if not understated career in Congress and presumably will seek higher office someday, though it's unlikely he'll become a lion of the Senate like his father.
When it comes to star power, none of the Kennedy heirs can compete with Caroline Kennedy. She has kept out of the limelight her entire life and has assiduously avoided politics, at least until now. Her sudden interest in New York's Senate seat may be fueled, in part, as much by a desire to continue the dynastic legacy as it is to serve the people of New York. For many New Yorkers, the question for Caroline is one of commitment: If she's not appointed by Gov. David Paterson to replace Hillary Clinton, will she still seek elected office in the future? If not, then Governor Paterson is responsible for choosing more than just New York's Senate seat.
Nick Ragone is the author of three books on government and politics, including Presidents' Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Extraordinary Executives, Colorful Campaigns, and White House Oddities . His blog is nickragone.com.