Caroline Kennedy, briefly the frontrunner to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the senator from New York, is now reportedly out of the running.

Or maybe she is still in the running.

The New York Times and the New York Post say Kennedy has extracted herself from the competition.

NBC says she is still bidding.

What is at issue is the question of whether the daughter of John, niece of Bobby and Teddy, called New York Governor David Paterson asking that her name be taken off the list of those under consideration to fill the Clinton vacancy.

In fact, if the call was made, there was a almost certainly a lot of winking and nodding going on.

If Caroline Kennedy has quit the “race,” it is not because she was “spooked” by Ted Kennedy’s latest health crisis. It is because she is surrounded by a political braintrust that has always operated by the rule that Kennedys are never passed over — they withdraw.

It is possible that Kennedy’s moment may have passed. She was hot for a few days there, and she clearly made a run for the seat — detailing policies and positions, making the right calls to the right people, communicating always and without question that she was ready to start her formal political career in the same place where uncles Bobby and Teddy did: in the Senate. But Peterson reportedly bristled at the prospect.

Governor Paterson’s is the only vote that matters in this “contest” — as is the case with most Senate vacancies in most states.

It should be remembered that no Kennedy ever got to the Senate by appointment. Kennedys are elected to that body: John in 1952, Teddy in 1962, Bobby in 1964.

Perhaps if Caroline Kennedy really wants to get to the Senate, she will have to do so in the old-fashioned way: via ballots, rather than the courting of a governor who will use his appointment privilege to advance his own political career — but necessarily that of a Kennedy.