Eye On White House
- Chris Dodd is running for President. Just because he won't have
anything better to do. He's the new Bob Graham.
Eye On White House
Dodd Building Foundation For Presidential Race
By DAVID LIGHTMAN
Washington Bureau Chief
May 23 2006
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Christopher J. Dodd said Monday he has "decided to
do all the things that are necessary to prepare to seek the presidency
The Connecticut Democrat will hire staff, raise money and travel
around the country in the next few months as he tries to enlist support.
Like other presidential contenders, Dodd said during a lengthy
interview in his Capitol Hill office that he will not formally decide
until early next year whether to make his bid official. At the moment,
he joins about 10 other major Democratic Party figures who are
considering a run.
Dodd came close to running in 2004 but never entered the race.
Circumstances are different today - he is not up for re-election to
his Senate seat, and colleague Joe Lieberman is not running for president.
Dodd, who turns 62 Saturday, was elected by a wide margin to a fifth
Senate term in 2004. He has never lost an election, but starts his
White House effort as a long shot - invisible in most presidential
He is highly regarded among his Senate colleagues as a skilled
backroom negotiator who has won passage of major legislation, notably
the Family and Medical Leave Act, help for minority voters and huge
budget boosts for Head Start and child care.
He has been able to get liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans
to back such measures, yet he's known among Democratic insiders as an
outspoken advocate for partisan causes.
Dodd came within one vote of being chosen Senate leader in 1994, and
weeks later he became the Democratic National Committee's general
chairman. He overcame early skepticism by many party leaders outside
New England and proved to be a popular partisan speaker around the
country, particularly with minority constituencies.
But a Dodd White House run would faces numerous hurdles. He lacks the
name recognition of candidates such as 2004 ticket-mates John Kerry
and John Edwards, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, Delaware Sen.
Joseph R. Biden Jr., and others. And the $2 million Dodd has on hand
for a race is dwarfed by New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's
estimated $20 million and Kerry's estimated $17 million.
Dodd also will be scrutinized like never before - facing questions
about thousands of votes over the years, criticism of consistently
high rankings by liberal groups, skepticism about whether a New
Englander should head the ticket again and likely barbs about his days
in the 1980s, when he was divorced and known as a ladies' man.
Dodd made it clear Monday that he has thought carefully about this
undertaking. He spoke confidently and rapidly about his plans, and his
tone was unusually serious. Dodd often injects humor or even gossip
into his conversation. Not this time.
He explained that after weeks of talking with key advisers he decided
to proceed last month during dinner with his wife, Jackie, at Jack's
American Bistro and Wine Bar in Old Saybrook. Jackie Dodd, a savvy
Washington player who was an executive at the Export-Import Bank and
is now an international business consultant, told her husband he
should lay the groundwork to run.
The Dodds have two young daughters, Grace, 4½, and 14-month-old Christina.
"They're young enough so that I can do this and still be with them,"
the senator said, adding that he wanted to be able to tell them that
when he saw the problems the country faces today, he tried to make the
Dodd turned to old friends who have advised him for years, including
Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3rd District, his first Senate chief of staff
in the early 1980s; Douglas Sosnik, another former chief of staff who
became President Clinton's political director; former Sen. Ernest F.
Hollings, D-S.C., an old friend who ran for president in 1984; former
Minnesota Rep. Richard M. Nolan, and pollster Stanley Greenberg,
DeLauro's husband and a longtime Dodd adviser.
DeLauro was unequivocal. "This is someone who is incredibly effective,
a unifying person," she said Monday. Forget any concerns about being
tagged as a New England liberal, DeLauro advised.
"He has traveled the length and breadth of the country," she said. "He
has sat with families in their living rooms. He knows how to create
Dodd is known as someone who connects well with others but can also
show a temper. And while he's a seasoned legislative negotiator, he is
not considered a detail man.
Dodd ultimately had to decide whether he had the fire in the belly for
a run. Sosnik said there was "no question about it ... he's convinced
he really wants to run."
Dodd also reached out to friends around the country, including Rep.
Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., and Georgia
Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker.
"He'd make a great president," Baker said Monday. He said that
although Dodd's New England label could make some people leery, "once
people look at his record and see he has support across the board,
they will come to know him and where his heart is."
Dodd said he decided to pursue the candidacy because he constantly
hears from constituents that the country is going in the wrong
direction, yet politicians often seem blind to their concerns and
focused instead on divisive wedge issues.
"Families are under incredible pressure. They're working less and
paying more," he said. "There's a sense the challenges they face are
On global issues, Dodd, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, said he can bring a world view to fighting terrorism that
he often finds lacking.
"It's going to be more than Iraq," he said of 2008 security issues.
"After 9/11, the world was at our doorstep." Not anymore. Although the
United States does not have to be liked, he said, it must re-establish
its alliances and regain respect.
Dodd said he hopes his message of optimism and conciliation will
transcend ideology and even partisanship.
But first he will have to escape the liberal tag, which can be
political poison. Americans for Democratic Action, which rates
lawmakers on their liberalism, gave Dodd a perfect score last year.
Dodd's compromising skills may have won him respect from GOP senators
as a voice of reason, but that's barely known outside the Capitol.
Dodd said he was unworried how others define him. "I don't run away
from who I am and what I stand for," he said. "Campaigns are always
about the future."
Dodd also will have to overcome his New England roots. The last time a
non-Southern Democrat won the White House was 46 years ago, and party
officials have struggled mightily to find candidates with appeal
outside the Northeast, a region that is now considered reliably
"I'll get out and get known," Dodd said, recalling that he heard the
same criticism when he was nominated for party chairman, and it
A third problem may be his 1980s image as one of the tabloids'
favorite senators. Though he has not had to endure such publicity for
at least 20 years, a candidate's entire life is fair game in a
Dodd professed to be unworried. "It's about the future," he said of
the race. "Remember what this is about."
Dodd's Senate duties and demeanor could present another hurdle. Making
the leap from the decorum and dignity of the U.S. Senate - where
members address one another as "gentleman" and "gentle lady" and
rarely speak ill of their colleagues - to a campaign bulldog can prove
Modern presidential politics requires tartness and even nastiness, the
ability to find a seemingly obscure vote or quote and use it as a
dagger into the heart of an opponent's campaign.
Dodd contended that he may not need a scythe, saying his genial tone
is just what people want. "I realize politics is a contact sport," he
said, "but people are desperate for political leadership for the
purpose of bringing people together."
For now, Dodd has the confidence of someone who has finally broken
through and decided to make the effort.
"This is the right time for me," he said. "This is the right thing to do."
Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant