Most telling, perhaps, is Caroline Kennedy's recent failed bid to replace Hillary Clinton as senator from New York by gubernatorial appointment. Initial positive reaction quickly gave way to resentment over the appearance of dynastic entitlement.
Author Edward Klein has tracked such family machinations in his recently published book Ted Kennedy: The Dream That Never Died. Denounced as gossip by some, and cited by others as an ultimate inside account, it provides juicy tales of the tensions between Vicki and the rest of the family as Kennedy lay in the hospital last year — including Vicki's transparent ambition for the Senate seat.
Klein is particularly struck by her reported denial of interest. "Whether she really means that or not," Klein told the Phoenix earlier this week, prior to Kennedy's passing, "we don't know."
"He [Ted] did have a dream that a Kennedy would succeed him in the Senate," adds Klein, recalling the famous report of Joe Kennedy Sr. declaring, of Ted's Senate seat, "It's mine — I bought it."
But Klein speculates that the strategy would involve the special election, not the appointment — which might serve as a Kennedy placeholder, just as it did in 1960, when governor Foster Furcolo appointed Benjamin Smith to replace JFK until Ted turned 30 and was eligible to win it himself.
If Vicki does seek election, "she will not find a lot of support from the Kennedy family," most of whom resent the more buttoned-down lifestyle she has enforced, says Klein. "For a variety of reasons, she is wildly unpopular among the Kennedy family."
Which is also why Klein fears that, in the wake of the senator's death — and after his operational structure scatters — Vicki will be unable to exert control over the extended Kennedy clan. The center will not hold, he says; the tabloid tendencies of the family members will be loosed, and their infighting will become public. He predicts: "I think we're in for a very rocky time."
In the current mood of Massachusetts, voters are likely to react badly to anything that smacks of insider, nepotistic machine politics — especially following the Caroline Kennedy debacle. That could spell electoral doom for Vicki, should she decide to run — some insiders speculate that, of all the current potential candidates, she is the only one who might lose a special election to a Republican.
But it also means that some Senate hopefuls are unlikely to quietly step aside for a chosen successor — be it Vicki, Joe, or anyone else.
Such hopefuls would include Congressman Lynch, who several political observers believe stands to gain the most from Kennedy's plan and departure. If voters feel like striking a blow against the machine, they may find their messenger in him.
Lynch, a former ironworker (and son of an ironworker) who grew up in the Southie projects, is a true lunch-bucket pol — almost a perfect antidote to the Hyannis-compound wealth of the Kennedys. He is also considered something of an outsider in the Democratic Party: he is conservative on many social issues like abortion, and voted against the TARP bank bailout. (Coakley is expected to have the backing of most of the state's Democratic elite and powerful. But that didn't get Tom Reilly the nomination for governor, and it just barely got Nikki Tsongas her seat in Congress.)