New York Gov. David Paterson, in deciding who will replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate, has the power to boost the political career of one of a dozen potential candidates -- but Paterson himself could be the one with the most to gain or lose as he mulls his selection.
The Democratic governor, who chanced into the position after former Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in a prostitution scandal, must run for election in 2010. And his choice for Senate could affect not only his popularity among New Yorkers but also the fundraising strength of the state's Democratic ticket in 2010 and his relationship with the incoming White House.
At first glance, analysts and officials say at least two of these factors favor Caroline Kennedy, who after weeks of testing the waters is diving into the race. She's rumored to be facing off against state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, as well as several U.S. representatives and state officials.
"There's a lot at stake in the governor's decision," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion. "(Paterson) may clearly look to someone who would provide some attraction to the ticket he would be on, and also someone who would be able to raise him money."
On those factors, Miringoff said Kennedy would be a "huge pick" for Paterson.
Clinton, who was elected in 2000 and re-elected six years later, is President-elect Barack Obama's pick for secretary of state. If she is confirmed and resigns, the job of appointing her replacement falls to Paterson.
New York Assemblyman N. Nick Perry, the House Democratic whip, called Kennedy a "neatly packaged" candidate for the governor, who could bring in cash and "round off the statewide ticket" with a revered name among Democrats.
And Perry said Kennedy would be "tremendously helpful" in Paterson's attempts to reach out to the White House and Senate for federal support. (New York is facing severe fiscal problems, and on Tuesday, Paterson unveiled a tough plan to close the state's gaping budget deficit.)
"It would make our loss of Hillary Clinton so much less," Perry said.
Kennedy was an early Obama supporter during the Democratic primaries and helped lead his vice presidential vetting effort.
With her star power, Kennedy could hold unusual clout as one of the Senate's most junior members. Her appointment would also answer the calls of women's groups who want Paterson to pick a woman to replace Clinton.
U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who intends to run for the Senate seat in 2010, told FOXNews.com that he believes Paterson already has made up his mind.
"I'm guessing that he has decided on her," King said. "If Barack Obama strongly wants Caroline Kennedy, certainly the governor has to factor that in ... It's hard to say no to a Kennedy."
But King joined skeptical Democrats in saying Kennedy brings little more to the job than a "famous name." King said Kennedy has no record.
While Kennedy is an accomplished author and education advocate, she never has served in public office.
Cuomo, the son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo, was elected state attorney general in 2006 and previously served as U.S. housing secretary under President Clinton.
His name recognition and popularity in New York, as well as his ability to rake in money for the Democratic ticket in 2010, also cannot be underestimated. And Cuomo, after successfully running for statewide office, has ties to upstate New Yorkers that Kennedy does not.
A recent Marist Institute poll found that upstate and suburban New York voters favored Cuomo for Clinton's seat, while New York City voters favored Kennedy. Overall, the two were tied, at 25 percent each.
"A lot of people are still not sure about her," Miringoff said. "She needs very badly to establish some kind of policy focus with voters who at this point don't have a sense of that."
New York State Assembly Majority Leader Ron Canestrari, who is supporting Cuomo, told FOXNews.com that Kennedy's in "another realm" when it comes to star power.
But he said his colleagues are genuinely split over whether to back Kennedy or Cuomo.
"(Cuomo) has been here with us through the good times, through the bad times, and produced as attorney general," Canestrari said.
There's one more factor that could lift Cuomo's chances. Cuomo ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2002 but has been talked about as a potential candidate again in 2010.
By sending Cuomo to Washington, Paterson would eliminate that threat.
Cuomo could not be reached for comment by FOXNews.com.
Asked about Paterson's decision-making process, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown -- who also is interested in Clinton's Senate seat -- said he's sure it will entail a "comprehensive vetting."
"He is a very thorough individual, a very serious-minded individual," Brown said. "I believe he will make a sound decision ... for the benefit of all New Yorkers."
Brown conceded that upstate voters have a "sense of confidence" in Cuomo. But he noted that Kennedy was moving to inspire that kind of confidence.
He said Kennedy called him Monday to set up a meeting to discuss upstate issues, as she expressed her interest in Clinton's seat. Brown, who said Kennedy was surely qualified for the job, said he agreed to meet.
Kennedy has also retained the services of the political consulting firm, Knickerbocker SKD, which represents New York's other senator, Charles Schumer.
Schumer would not endorse any candidate when asked about the seat Tuesday.
"All 12 of the candidates would be excellent," he told FOX News, adding that he's talked to Kennedy and she's "very interested" in the job.
FOX News' Chad Pergram and Major Garrett contributed to this report.