"She has a lot of sources to draw upon that have no relation to her father's and uncle's and cousins' resources," said Theodore Sorenson, a former speechwriter for John F. Kennedy. "She has plenty of her own generation to draw from. She doesn't have to reach out to me."

To be sure, Townsend might turn to family members for advice and counsel. One brother, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., is a leading environmentalist, and another brother, Joseph P. Kennedy, the former Massachusetts congressman, is regarded as a masterful campaigner.

Ted Kennedy is a father figure to Townsend and her siblings, filling the void created by an assassin's bullet. Speculation abounds, however, that he is playing an even larger role.

Some wonder if he is working behind the scenes, pressuring Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley to stay out of a Democratic primary or encouraging Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski (who holds a subcommittee chair in Kennedy's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee) and Paul S. Sarbanes to endorse his niece, as they did this week.

Steve Kearney, a spokesman for O'Malley, said he had no direct evidence of Kennedy family efforts.

"Do we know the motivation of everyone who speaks with the mayor? No," Kearney said. "But we haven't gotten any phone calls from Hyannis Port."

Aides to Mikulski and Sarbanes said they know of no communication between the senators and Kennedy, and Kennedy staffers say he is not actively involved in the day-to-day strategy or operations of the Townsend race.

"If she invites him in to campaign, I'm sure he'll be amenable to that," said Melody Miller, a senior aide to the senator. "He'll also be campaigning for Patrick Kennedy and for [Maryland congressional candidate] Mark Shriver."

Aside from tonight's fund-raiser, only a few clues of other family connections are apparent.

Townsend's campaign consultant is Robert M. Shrum, a former speechwriter for Robert Kennedy and press secretary to Ted Kennedy. He has worked regularly for family members, including providing counsel to Townsend's younger brother Max, who is considering a run for Congress in Massachusetts.

But Shrum, a leading Democratic consultant, has also worked in other Maryland races, including stints with Glendening, Mikulski and Sarbanes.

The money advantage

Perhaps the most striking advantage that Townsend has enjoyed to date is money. The $6 million she has raised has far outdistanced potential rivals, and she has collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from California, New York and other states - tapping a network that would not likely be available to a gubernatorial candidate with a different name.

Her most recent campaign report says 38 percent of donations came from out of state. She has held fund-raising events at the family compound on Cape Cod, attended by celebrities such as Marvin Hamlisch.

That edge has scared off some challengers, but not Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the Timonium Republican who says he is not sure whether he will face an organized family effort.

Ehrlich said he has received many e-mails urging him not to run that he traced to Democratic Capitol Hill staffers. But he said a celebrity brand of politics won't win votes; it will just solidify the support of those who would vote for Townsend anyway.

"It's a different state. It's a different era," Ehrlich said. "The president might help with swing voters. Caroline Kennedy doesn't win swing voters."

"I don't see this grand, orchestrated effort," said Michael S. Steele, the Maryland Republican Party chairman. "I see Hollywood coming east. I see Ted Kennedy showing up. But I've got President Bush. I've got Dick Cheney. Bring it on."