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December 31, 2008

Speaking styles mean Caroline Kennedy and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend share more than a name

Caroline Kennedy's verbally awkward political roll-out is drawing comparisons to another family member with a sometimes twisted tongue: her cousin, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend of Maryland.

Kennedy agreed to a series of recent interviews to make her case about why the 51-year-old daughter of John F. Kennedy who has led a life of relative seclusion should be tapped by the New York governor for the seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton.

During a discussion with New York Times reporters which was recorded and transcribed, Caroline Kennedy inserted the verbal tic "you know" 142 times. As in: "So I think in many ways, you know, we ant to have all kinds of different voices, you know, representing us, and I think what I bring to it is, you know, my experience as a mother, as a woman, as a lawyer, you know...."

For some observers, Caroline's comments raise the specter of another Kennedy. And not in a good way.

"Miss Kennedy, who has nver held an elected office and often neglected even to vote, is in danger of emulating her cousin Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of Robert Kennedy," wrote Toby Harnden, a Washington correspondent for the Telegraph of Great Britain. Harnden calls Maryland's former lieutenant governor an "uncomfortable campaigner" who "slumped to an ignominious defeat" in her 2002 gubernatorial bid.

Gregory Kane, a columnist for The Examiner of Baltimore (and formerly with the Sun), offered Caroline this advice: "Don't try it." Kane warned that Townsend's middle name was of no help, and said "I'm a little skittish about Kennedys who use their family name to run for political office."

Tom Brune of Newsday used KKT as an example of how "being a Kennedy does not necessarily make you a good politician."

Townsend holds the distinction of being the only Kennedy to lose a general election. And she did so twice: For congress, in 1996, and in the governor's race.

By 2002, her accumulated verbal gaffes after eight years as lieutenant governor hung heavily around her neck, and created a perception among voters that she was ill-prepared to lead.

The examples became the stuff of cringe-inducing legend. As Sun reporters Tom Waldron and Jeff Barker wrote nearly seven years ago: "She once bragged about hiring people who speak 'Hispanish.' She raved about how the Ravens had scored a dramatic 'football.' And her public remarks rarely unfold without at least one or two awkward pauses or stammers that can leave an audience squirming."

It doesn't sound like Caroline Kennedy is quite as bad a speaker. But if she gains a seat in the Senate, it will not be because of her oratory. It will be in spite of it.

Posted by David Nitkin at 4:06 PM | | Comments (2)


Nice piece, even if it was picked off from the AP and the Baltimore Examiner, far from original!
The Kennedy's may not have the distinctive flow of ur 'Golden Boy' O'Malley, who by the way every time I post something negative about u never post it, however they probably could run circles around his fiscally follied economic education and implementation! I'd love 2 see u go up against one of these Kennedy's in a policy debate!

There is no comparison between KKT and Caroline. KKT has pudding for brains.

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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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