Face time seems to equal votes in early caucus or primary states such as Iowa. But does it help a candidate to move here?
Marianne Williamson, author, lecturer and a Democrat running for president, grew up in Houston and has lived in Los Angeles and New York, but now she lives in Iowa.
“I’ve moved to Des Moines,” Williamson said in an interview this week.
Brent Roske, Williamson’s state director, said his boss signed a lease on a Des Moines condo and moved “her stuff” there earlier this spring. The campaign used the condo for a private event in May, and Williamson has been telling audiences, including one recently in Ames, that she’s living in Iowa.
“It’s been about showing her commitment to the Iowa caucuses,” Roske said. “The Iowa caucuses are one of the last bastions of personal democracy. She agrees with that. We want to support the caucuses.”
Williamson isn’t the first candidate to move to Iowa in a caucus run-up.
Chris Dodd, a Connecticut senator, moved his family, including two young daughters, to a three-bedroom, two-bath house in West Des Moines in 2007 in what McClatchy Newspapers writer David Lightman at the time wrote was either a “desperate grab for attention or a clever way of ingratiating himself among Iowans.”
Then-U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., moved his mother to the Des Moines area before the 1988 caucuses.
“Ask Dick Gephardt or Chris Dodd how they did,” Dennis Goldford, a Drake University political science professor, said when The Gazette asked whether an Iowa ZIP code is a political asset.
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Gephardt actually won the Iowa caucuses in 1988. Dodd came in sixth. Neither won the Democratic nomination.
“The people who moved here have not had particular electoral success,” Goldford said. “It’s a gimmick to foster a connection and familiarity, but it doesn’t have a good track record.”
Karen Kedrowski, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University, is more generous.
“Clearly, it’s a strategy and can have its advantages, mitigating time and the expenses of travel,” she said about candidates moving to Iowa.
“Dodd really wanted to see his family more. He could campaign and stay engaged in home life.
“Having said that, all of these people who have taken this approach have not been what we would call front-runners.”
It’s possible Williamson, when she’s staying in her Des Moines condo, will read the Des Moines Register or watch WHO TV Channel 13 news. Maybe she’ll chat with neighbors in a new coffee shop or see what it’s like to get caught in a summer downpour without an umbrella.
“By becoming part of the community and following the local news, experiencing the weather, it does allow someone to add color and authenticity to their stump speech,” Kedrowski said. “It shows a commitment and a depth of experience that someone who flies in for four days simply can’t replicate.”
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On the other hand, many of today’s presidential candidates have aides to buy their coffee and watch the weather radar.
“A candidate is always going to be part of a bubble,” Goldford said.
Goldford doesn’t think candidates have to move to Iowa to persuade Iowans they understands the state. That connection involves lots of one-on-one conversations. FiveThirtyEight.com reported last month that John Delaney, Andrew Yang and Beto O’Rourke are the Democratic presidential candidates who had been in Iowa the most at that time.
“Do you have to live here? No,” Goldford said. “You just have to make sure people know they are appreciated and respected.”
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