I’ve been intrigued by the possibility that New York Governor David Patterson might name Caroline Kennedy to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate. Having been a longtime Kennedy-watcher with a background covering New York politics, I am very curious about how somebody with a storied political name but little actual experience in elective office might win over voters and keep the seat.
I decided to check in with an old political hand, Dr. David Luchins, for his perspective. Dr. Luchins, who now teaches at New York’s Touro College, served Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan for two decades as a staffer and senior adviser and later went on to advise Clinton in her senate campaign. Luchins was personally privy to the advice Moynihan gave to Clinton prior to her run for elective office, counsel that served her well during her career in New York politics. From Kennedy’s uncle, Robert F. Kennedy, to Moynihan to Clinton, elite outsiders who have held this seat have won over New York voters by diving into the details of policy and its ramifications for New York. Here are his recommendations, which reflect and grow out of what he heard Senator Moynihan tell Clinton (with some analysis and commentary from me:)
- Work your tail off upstate. Hillary Clinton, like Moynihan, devoted considerable political energy in upstate New York. This paid huge dividends for Clinton, making her impervious to political challenge (particularly from Republicans) and sharpening her appeal with blue collar voters who loyally stood behind her during the contentious rust belt presidential primaries against Barack Obama. One reason Tim Russert became famous as a political entity was that Moynihan wanted the best man possible upstate. He selected Russert, a Buffalo-native, to run his upstate office and, ultimately his Washington one.
- Be humble. New Yorkers expect even celebrity candidates, Robert Kennedy, James Buckley, Moynihan and Clinton to be able to talk to them in simple and down-to-earth terms. Moynihan told Clinton in 1999 that her achievements in Arkansas, Washington D.C. and Illinois didn’t mean anything in New York. He reminded her to listen to New Yorkers, particularly upstate. This contributed to the “listening tour” strategy that worked well for her in New York and in the presidential race.
- Bring home the bacon. Moynihan pressed Washington to pay for the New York State Thruway. Clinton took up the cause of funding for New Yorkers afflicted by 9/11 syndrome. I see Caroline Kennedy coming to this very naturally; after all, it’s exactly what her uncle, Senator Kennedy has been doing for Massachusetts since 1962.
- Focus on the finances. Moynihan had an advanced degree in international relations and served as ambassador to the United Nations. Yet when he joined the senate he became an expert on finances. Moynihan, in particular, targeted the dynamic whereby wealthy Northeastern states, such as New York (and Massachusetts, by the way) raise far more money for the federal government than they get back. Moynihan put out an eagerly anticipated finance report known as the “fisc;” the Library of Congress explains the abundance of such documents on its site, saying ”one of the largest groups of material relates to Fisc reports, Moynihan’s annual report on the impact of federal spending and tax collection of the states, particularly as it affected New York.” (This is the subtext to the famous exchange between Hillary Clinton and Russert about Social Security. Russert expected Clinton to carry on Moynihan’s interest in this area, and Clinton was well-prepared for it.)