Dodd Hopes Move Will Propel Him In Iowa

Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., speaks at the Service Employees International Union Political Action Conference in Washington, Monday, Sept. 17, 2007.
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
It seems presidential candidate Christopher Dodd has borrowed a page from fellow Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman's campaign playbook with his recent decision to move to Iowa, site of the leadoff 2008 presidential caucuses.

Lieberman, I-Conn., made a similar move to New Hampshire four years ago when he was seeking the Democratic nomination for president. But the strategy to win over voters in the final weeks of the race came up short. He finished fifth.

"Gestures like that can make a difference, but they can't change the underlying dynamics of the race," said Dan Gerstein, a Lieberman adviser and senior strategist in the senator's 2004 White House bid.

Lieberman became an independent senator after losing the 2006 Democratic Senate primary in Connecticut but retaining his seat in the general election.

Dodd announced last week that he has rented a house in Des Moines, Iowa, where he and his family plan to live until the January caucuses. The Dodds said they are making arrangements for one of their daughters to enroll in kindergarten there.

"It shows his commitment to the state, it shows his commitment to the caucus process," Dodd spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan said Wednesday.

A key factor for Dodd, Flanagan said, was being able to spend more time with his wife, Jackie Clegg Dodd, and their two young daughters, 6-year-old Grace and 2-year-old Christina, while campaigning in Iowa.

"They're going out there to stay together," said Flanagan.

Flanagan also recalled how former congressman Richard Gephardt of Missouri rented an apartment in Iowa and became a virtual resident before winning the 1988 Iowa contest.

Dodd remains in the single digits in polls. He hopes his Iowa focus can give him a boost.

"It is somewhat puzzling why he would invest so much time and energy in Iowa in light of his standing there," said Gary Rose, a political science professor at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. "You would think the writing is on the wall, and so you would think at this point he'd be thinking of an exit strategy as opposed to investing more and more time into it. His campaign hasn't received any traction at all."

Lieberman, who had been the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000, was in similar straits four years ago.

He was mired in the middle of the pack of nine Democrats when he decided to move to New Hampshire for the final month before the state's primary contest. He rented a furnished two-bedroom apartment in Manchester, the state's largest city. Family members also made the move. Lieberman finished fifth and soon dropped out after losses in other early primary contests.

Gerstein said Dodd's Iowa move could help him be more visible and have more direct contact with Iowa voters. But he said it can't compensate for factors such as money and organization that have propelled the front-runners.

"It's pretty questionable how many votes this will translate into," Gerstein said. "But it indicates, at the minimum, a level of seriousness and commitment which matters to people, particularly in Iowa and New Hampshire where it is retail politics at its closest."

Putting down temporary roots in a place like Iowa or New Hampshire can stir criticism back home. A recent Connecticut Post editorial praised Dodd for standing up for important issues on the campaign trail, but chided him for his Iowa move.

"How can he identify himself as D-Conn., when he lives in Iowa?" the editorial asked.

Flanagan said Connecticut voters would be supportive because they see Dodd standing up on the national stage on issues they care deeply about like the Iraq war. Besides, she said, Dodd has deep roots in Connecticut.

Rose and Gerstein agreed that Dodd probably won't face much home state criticism while he's in Iowa.

"I don't see it as having any repercussions here in Connecticut," Rose said. "Dodd is largely a household name ... We are talking about a senator with an extremely safe seat and a strong network of allies throughout the state."

Gerstein said there's generally an implicit understanding between home state voters and presidential candidates that they won't be around as much. Candidates like Dodd have a reservoir of public goodwill built up over the years. Problems can still arise, he said, if staffers back home drop the ball.

"Dodd's too smart a guy to let that happen," Gerstein said. "I don't think there's any evidence yet that Dodd is not delivering."