Politics & Government

Sen. Dodd moves family to Iowa in hope of gaining votes

WASHINGTON — Sen. Chris Dodd's long-shot Democratic presidential campaign has a new look: It's the Little House on the Prairie.

The Connecticut senator, in what's either a desperate grab for attention or a clever way of ingratiating himself among Iowans, has moved his family of four to a three-bedroom, three-bath house in west Des Moines.

He pulled his six-year-old daughter Grace out of her Washington, D.C. kindergarten class last week and re-enrolled her in Iowa. Wife Jackie, an international business consultant, and their younger daughter, Christina, 2 {, are also along, as Dodd tries to reinvigorate — or, some would say, simply invigorate — a presidential campaign that's failed to crack 1 percent in the Iowa polls.

"This shows his commitment to the state and the people and the caucus process," explained spokeswoman Taylor West.

Iowa analysts were less impressed.

"What it's going to get him is a heating bill that's huge," said Steffen W. Schmidt, professor of political science at Iowa State University. "He's going to find Connecticut is sub-tropical compared to Des Moines in winter."

Moving in is hardly a time-tested tactic in early primaries and caucuses.

In 1988, then-Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., moved his mother to a Des Moines area apartment, aiming to capture the sizeable 65-and-older population.

Whether or not she was the key to his success there is debatable; Gephardt, from a neighboring state, was already well known, and won that year's caucus handily. He immediately encountered trouble, though, as he lost the New Hampshire primary and was outspent by rivals. He failed to win the nomination.

In 2003, the junior senator from Connecticut, Joe Lieberman, wouldn't make the same mistake. About a month before the primary, Lieberman wrote off Iowa and moved his family into a basement apartment in Manchester, N. H.

It was a move full of fanfare, as cameras recorded Lieberman and his son Matt pulling up to their new digs in a Mercury Sable LS station wagon and unloading boxes. He offered everyone rugelach, a Russian-Jewish cookie, and declared "This is what it's going to be like when I'm in the White House. Pastry for everyone."

He didn't even win the pastry vote; Lieberman wound up a distant fifth in the primary, and was out of the race a week later.

Now comes Dodd, who until this year had never run for anything outside the state where he was born 63 years ago.

So far, nothing has yanked his White House bid out of its doldrums, not a statewide tour this summer with singer Paul Simon, not opening up 11 field offices from the Mississippi to the Missouri.

So he'll operate out of the Tudor-style house, built in the late 1920s, rent some furniture and be able to get downtown or onto I-80 in minutes.

It's worth trying, said Peverill Squire, professor of political science at the University of Iowa. "He needs to do something to make a splash," Squire said. "But I'm not sure this alone will turn the tide."

Schmidt was brusquer. "When you're flat-lining like he is, you have to have someone pound on your chest," he said. "This is like pounding on the chest."

  Comments