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Chelsea offers a glimpse of the White House years

December 11, 2007 | 10:54 am

It's been rare to see or hear from Chelsea Clinton on the campaign trail. But she surfaced this past weekend and, in one exchange, provided a small bit of insight into how she was influenced by spending eight years of her early life living in the White House.

On Saturday in Iowa, as part of the effort by her mom's presidential campaign to distract attention from the major attraction in the state (the Oprah/Obama Express), the 27-year-old former first daughter was at Hillary Clinton's side. The pair, along with the candidate's mother, Dorothy Rodham, mixed with voters during stops across Iowa. In the best tradition of Camp Clinton, however, they spent no time chatting with the press. So the best bet for a reporter to glean any information was to lurk nearby as she pressed the flesh, which is exactly what The Times' Peter Nicholas did.

In Des Moines, he learned something about her tastes in entertainment. After hearing that one woman was in town to see the Rockettes perform, Chelsea offered: "I saw the Rockettes this week in New York!''

Most of the interaction was even more perfunctory, as would be expected. But in Madison County -- as in "Bridges of ..." -- one of her conversations proved more revealing.

A man smiled at her and said she was a role model who compared favorably to President Bush's twin daughters. He then made reference to some drinking episodes involving Jenna and Barbara Bush when they were underage by a few years.

You wouldn't do that, he said to Chelsea.

"No, but I ... '' she said, and hesitated. "I grew up with it'' -- an apparent reference to the fact that she was 12 years old when her father entered the White House and, thus, acclimated herself to the spotlight before she was inclined to sow some wild oats.

Later, she told another voter: "I'm also a control freak.''

-- Don Frederick