ROCHESTER, N.Y. - The start of Caroline Kennedy's "listening tour" was awfully hard to hear.
So far, her first foray into politics has been one of private meetings, brief appearances, and unanswered questions about what she would do, say and think if chosen as New York's next senator.
It's a similar strategy to the one Hillary Rodham Clinton employed successfully in 1999 to meet and listen to residents and politicians, but with a big difference: Kennedy's really campaigning for only one voter - Democratic Gov. David Paterson. He has the sole responsibility for naming a successor if Clinton is confirmed as President-elect Barack Obama's secretary of state.
"It is not a campaign," Kennedy, 51, said after a private meeting with Democratic officials in Rochester.
Yet there is an intense lobbying effort under way to persuade the people who can persuade the governor to make her a senator.
In that, the daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy is no different from the dozen or so others who want the Senate seat - but her effort has been far more closely scrutinized because she has never run for office and little is known about her politics, personality or priorities.
A big part of Kennedy's effort is trying to convince upstate political bosses that she sees beyond the skyscrapers of Manhattan.
Upstate New Yorkers feel chronically ignored by New York's political leadership, especially now that the governor and both senators live in or near New York City.
Should Clinton win confirmation early next year, Paterson will appoint someone to the seat for two years.
Kennedy stumbled in her first public appearance Wednesday in Syracuse. She met privately for an hour with local politicians, then spoke to reporters for all of 30 seconds before being hustled away by an aide.
Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll said she "seemed pleasant" and added: "I think she's certainly well-read."
Former federal prosecutor Dan French said she would return to Syracuse to talk more.
"People need to let her jump into this," French said. "She's doing everything she can to meet people and hear from people, and she's just begun."
Later in the day, in Buffalo, she opened up enough to speak publicly for about two minutes. But she was surrounded by security and media so it's doubtful the public caught even a glimpse of her.
The trip did not get good reviews.
"A drive-by visit," the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle called it, urging her to come back and talk publicly to real people, not politicians.
Kennedy's public outreach so far may be scant, but her private talks have already paid dividends. Kevin Sheekey - the man behind Mayor Michael Bloomberg's stillborn presidential campaign - has been promoting her privately, according to Democrats who spoke on condition of anonymity because the conversations are private.
The backroom lobbying also centers on political operative Josh Isay, a former top aide to Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer whose clients include Kennedy, Bloomberg and civil rights activist Al Sharpton, who effectively endorsed Kennedy's bid last week when he took her out for soul food at Sylvia's in Harlem.
Those sorts of overlapping loyalties strike some as undemocratic, even in a process where a nonelected governor - Paterson rose to the office when Eliot Spitzer resigned in disgrace - is picking a nonelected senator.
"It looks like Bloomberg is creating a cadre of philosopher kings and queens drawn from the elite," said Doug Muzzio, professor of politics at Baruch College. "I don't know that it's a positive development for New York politics, irrespective of her and her qualifications."