Candidates' kin reach out to Iowans

By Annie Shuppy
Iowa Presidential

Vanessa Kerry grew up discussing politics and social injustice with her father, a lawmaker and Vietnam veteran.

 “It was never any one lesson. We’d take what we saw in life and talk about it,” said Vanessa Kerry, the younger daughter of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. “Lessons were always coming up.”
Now 26 and a third-year student at the Harvard School of Medicine, Vanessa Kerry still speaks with her father every day -- only now they are both on the campaign trail. The two often debate political issues such as the
environment and his vote supporting the Congressional resolution for use of force in Iraq.

“ I don’t disagree with him, but I like to hear his arguments, see how he thinks and have him explain to me his reasoning,” she said.
Vanessa Kerry, a blonde who bears some of her father’s distinctive features, is taking a few months off from Harvard to campaign for her father. In October, she kicked off the "Kerry Dorm Storm,” intended to recruit young people at Iowa college campuses into the campaign, with her stepbrother, Chris Heinz, 30.

She told a small group of Grinnell College students Oct. 11 that her father has always been an activist at heart. When John Kerry went to Vietnam, he saw mostly poor and minorities carrying the burden of the war, she said.  

“What has always driven my father is that everyone has the right to the same opportunities,” said Vanessa, a 1999 Yale University graduate.
Heinz, the youngest son of Teresa Heinz Kerry, spoke expertly about John Kerry’s policies and why he thinks they are superior to those of President Bush and the other eight Democratic candidates. The Yale University and Harvard Business School alum, who currently works full-time on the Kerry campaign , described John Kerry as a courageous person and pre-eminent environmental leader.  
“ It’s not a slam dunk that I’d be here by any means. I'm dropping everything,” said Heinz, who lost his
father in 1991. “He has just become a great friend of mine.”

John Kerry is “very engaged” and funnier than he comes off in the press, said Vanessa Kerry, adding that his serious persona is indicative of a deep commitment to the issues.

 “ There is a lot of charisma there, a lot of heart,” she said, adding that at times when she travels in a car with her father, they have to pull over because they start laughing so hard.

One example of John Kerry’s sense of humor came as a result of questions about his health and whether he would be able to hold out through a campaign after prostate surgery.  He responded to critics by referencing the vice president's reported heart problems, saying, “I saw Dick Cheney last week, and he’s doing just fine.”
Heinz returned to Iowa on Nov. 13 for a campaign event at an Iowa City bar, while Vanessa Kerry came back to the state for the Democratic Candidates Debate in Des Moines on Nov. 24. She said the "Kerry Dorm Storm" was a great experience and that the students she met in Iowa impressed her.

Although Kerry’s daughter and stepson have disrupted their ordinary lives to travel the country on his behalf, not all candidates' families are as active on the campaign trail.

There are no concrete plans to bring former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s family into Iowa, as Dean “keeps them away from the limelight,” said Sarah Leonard, Dean’s Iowa press secretary. However, his family joined him for his announcement speech in Vermont last summer, and Judy Steinberg Dean, who is “extremely busy” with her medical practice, has sent letters to supporters and has been involved in fundraising, Leonard said.

 “ It’s out of respect for privacy of the lives of the governor’s family members,” she said of the campaign’s lack of family involvement. “It’s certainly not a necessary component when the governor is leading the polls without family members on the campaign trail.”
Yet Chrissy Gephardt, daughter of Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., has visited Iowa on her father’s behalf. Gephardt’s wife, Jane, also frequently accompanies him on the campaign trail. Prior to their father’s withdrawal from the race, the daughters of Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., were similarly attending events and reaching out to Iowa caucus-goers.

University of Iowa political science professor Peverill Squire said candidate families "are either innocuous or, on the margin, can help." He noted that wives and children can be useful in spreading the campaign message over a greater territory.

Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., has been logging time in Iowa for her husband since March and is an example of how a candidate can use a family member to extend his reach. On Dec. 13, Elizabeth Edwards delivered donated books to a Des Moines community center and spent the next day in Waterloo. The Edwards family took their two young children and college-aged daughter on a bus trip through Iowa last summer, as well.
“ [Elizabeth Edwards] is a tremendous asset for the campaign because there is no better person to tell caucus-goers about Sen. Edwards’ background and ideas,” Edwards' Iowa press secretary, Kim Rubey, said.
Vanessa Kerry said her own devotion to her father’s campaign stems from her belief that he has “the plan, vision and ability to lead above and beyond.”

Aside from John Kerry’s conviction and sense of humor, Vanessa Kerry and Heinz also testified to his active lifestyle. The former Swift Boat officer kite-surfs, wind-surfs, bikes, skis and, under the watchful eye of his “worry-wart” wife, drinks protein shakes.

“The man is in outstanding physical health. It’s almost embarrassing to the younger generation,” said Vanessa Kerry, sharing a laugh with her stepbrother.

On a more serious note, she said that after President Bush took office, their family began to “abhor” the direction the country was going in and knew that it was not a matter of whether John Kerry would announce that he was running for president, but when. He informed his dying mother about his plans to run shortly before she passed away in November 2002, Vanessa Kerry said.

 “My grandma told him, ‘It’s about time,’” she said.  

E-mail Annie Shuppy at [email protected]

A version of this story appeared in The Daily Iowan on Oct. 20, 2003.

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