The Caroline Comeback?

ABC News’ Rick Klein Reports: After a rocky political debut, don’t look now, but things just might be looking better for Caroline Kennedy’s Senate chances.

On Wednesday, Kennedy picked up the backing of New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who pushed back against perceptions that she’s not ready for the Senate.

“The press whines that she doesn’t have a pat answer about why she wants the job. I’ve interviewed a score of men running for president; not one had a good answer for why he wanted it,” Dowd wrote.

“I know Caroline Kennedy. She’s smart, cultivated, serious and unpretentious. The Senate, shamefully sparse on profiles in courage during Dick Cheney’s reign of terror, would be lucky to get her.”

Significantly, Kennedy’s strategy has shifted in recent days. After giving a series of interviews to New York media outlets -- to decidedly mixed reviews -- and after holding public events where she hasn’t exactly knocked ’em out of the park, Kennedy has gone quiet.

This matters on two levels. First -- it avoids encounters with reporters where, for example, the number of times she says “you know” are counted.

Second -- and more importantly -- it helps build a case with the only person who matters in this exercise: Gov. David Paterson, D-N.Y., who has the sole discretion in whom to appoint to fill Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate seat.

Paterson has seemed at times to be favorably inclined toward appointing Kennedy, who has the backing of prominent national Democrats -- including, of course, the Kennedy clan.

But observers and associates say Paterson doesn’t want it to appear that he’s being pressured into picking Kennedy. Thus, less visibility from Kennedy probably only helps.

“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,” New York magazine’s Chris Smith writes.

“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 [Wednesday] and pulling the spotlight again, Kennedy stayed home to watch Paterson's State of the State speech on television.”

Paterson was asked about Kennedy and the vacant Senate seat by ABC’s Terry Moran, for a “Nightline” piece that aired Tuesday, and he made clear that he doesn’t want to be bullied:

“In situation such as this, I’m going to wait until our senator is confirmed. I think she will be confirmed.  I think she’ll get overwhelming support. But I think the most prudent way to select a senator is to wait until the previous senator has actually vacated,” Paterson said.

“And there is a lot of pressure on me to make the decision early. There are a lot of reports every day. We have the rumor of the day around here that I have to appoint someone. I am not going to be coerced.  I am not going to be unduly persuaded. And I’m not going to be pushed around.”

“There’s an old baseball umpire. His name was Bill Klem. And once there was a pitch, and he didn’t say anything. And the batter and the catcher looked at him and said, ‘Well, what is it?’ And he said what I’m saying. ‘It ain’t nothin’ until I call it.’”

On Kennedy, he said: “The rumor of the day is that she was in and then the next day the rumor was she was out. Back and forth. Meaning that there are a lot of people who are investing energy in rumoring, coercion, and all kinds of activity that a governor that is really trying to do his or her job should ignore. And I have properly done so.”

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