Without Ted Kennedy, who’ll step up next for politics’ most indomitable family?
To some observers, Caroline Kennedy's failure to launch in her bid for Hillary Clinton’s old Senate seat signaled the likely end of the Kennedy dynasty. After all, she was the most prominent and popular member of the family in her generation. She was aiming for not just any Senate seat, but the one held by her late uncle, Robert Kennedy, who is about as close to political sainthood as American leaders come. Will anyone be able to continue the family's legacy now that Teddy has passed away?
L to R: Getty Images (3); AP Photo
In fact, there are plenty of younger Kennedys who could follow Caroline in the batting lineup. The list includes activists like Robert F. Kennedy Jr., politicians like Joseph Kennedy II, and journalist/First Lady of California, Maria Shriver. The Daily Beast rated the electoral prospects of the younger Kennedys who could step up and carry the torch through the 21st century.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (son of Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Skakel)
RFK Jr.’s name popped up immediately as a possible choice to fill Hillary Clinton's Senate seat until he asked not to be considered in December. Kennedy, an active environmentalist best known for his efforts to clean up the Hudson River, said that while he considered the position, he ultimately decided he was "in a good position right now doing what I'm doing." Meaning: With six children to look after, he didn’t have much interest in splitting time between New York and Washington, D.C. But one friend and partner in his environmental efforts told The Daily Beast that Kennedy could make an effective politician were he to go down that road. "He enjoys a fight," the friend said. Political viability: Still strong.
Kerry Kennedy (daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Skakel)
Formerly married to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Kerry Kennedy has led human-rights delegations to dozens of countries and created the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights in honor of her late father. She had not demonstrated much interest in pursuing electoral politics. But then, last January, she jumped into the Democratic primaries to endorse Hillary Clinton along with her brother, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and cousin Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a direct counter to Ted and Caroline Kennedy's Obama endorsement. Political viability: Rising.
Christopher Kennedy (son of Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Skakel)
Not everyone went the activism/politics route in the Kennedy clan. Christopher Kennedy became president of Merchandise Mart, the gigantic retail location in Chicago once owned by his grandfather, Joseph P. Kennedy. While Chris has avoided politics up until now, his name popped up as a possible replacement for Barack Obama's Senate seat before ex-Gov. Blagojevich tapped Roland Burris for the job. Political viability: Solid, if interested.
Maria Shriver (daughter of Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver)
Perhaps the most intriguing prospect on the Kennedy bench is Maria Shriver, wife of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Shriver has proved an exceptionally active First Lady and is considered one of her husband's closest advisers. A lifelong Democrat, she has carefully preserved her political independence and endorsed Barack Obama in the presidential primaries. Rumors have sometimes popped up that she might one day run for governor herself. Despite the daylight between her and her husband's politics, however, the current budget crisis and Schwarzenegger's low approval ratings make the prospect even less likely than it may once have been. "[The rumors] haven't been around for awhile now partly because her husband isn't doing that well these days," Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a professor at the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development, said. "I think she's too intelligent to want to get involved." Shriver has repeatedly told reporters she will not run for office. Political viability: Sinking.
Joseph Kennedy II (son of Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Skakel)
Among the younger Kennedys, one of the thickest political resumes belongs to Joseph Kennedy II, who served 12 years representing Massachusetts in Congress. However, he ended a gubernatorial bid in 1997 in part because of a variety of family scandals. Despite his retreat from the political scene, he is often mentioned as a possible candidate to succeed his uncle Ted in the Senate and has $2 million in leftover campaign funds should he choose to mount such an effort. According to Adam Clymer, a biographer of Ted Kennedy, Joseph has an "outside chance" of securing the seat if he so chose, but, like Caroline in New York, is no sure thing. "There are certainly other [candidates]" Clymer said. "He wouldn't have a free ride." Indeed, Ted's wife, Vicki, is also a possible replacement and reportedly her husband's personal pick for successor. Political viability: Scandal-marred but not out.
Rep. Patrick Kennedy (son of Ted Kennedy and Virginia Joan Kennedy)
Despite being only 41 years old, Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island has held elected office for more than 20 years, starting as a state assembly member in 1988. However, he may have flambéed his prospects for something greater after he pleaded guilty in 2006 to driving under the influence of prescription drugs and entered a treatment program for addiction. Then again, his dad survived far great scandals and is still in the Senate. Political viability: Also scandal-marred but not out.
Max Kennedy (son of Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Skakel)
Max Kennedy considered running for Congress in Massachusetts in 2001 to succeed the late Rep. Joe Moakley and was even viewed as a frontrunner, but pulled out before his campaign got off the ground. Since then, he volunteered for John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008, but focused on his writing career instead of a political path. His book, Danger's Hour, a historical look at kamikaze fighters during World War II, came out last fall. Political viability: Not awful.
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Skakel)
Not much has been heard from Kennedy Townsend, the former Maryland lieutenant governor, since she lost her 2002 bid for governor. Considering that her opponent, Robert Ehrlich, was the only Republican to win the governorship of Maryland in nearly 40 years, perhaps she’s better off laying low for a while. Political viability: Toast.
Benjamin Sarlin is a reporter for The Daily Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.