Dodd Pins Hopes on Early-Vote Miracles

By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 6, 2007

DYERSVILLE, Iowa, July 5 -- Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) is not the first candidate to visit the eastern Iowa spot where the legendary movie "Field of Dreams" was filmed. But as he tossed a baseball around with his wife and two young daughters here on Thursday, Dodd seemed to embrace the movie's enduring line: "If you build it, they will come."

Dodd, 63, is running for president in a 2008 Democratic field crowded with heavy hitters who have used up most of the oxygen in the race so far, leaving him as something of an afterthought. Skimming the bottom of most of the polls, ranking near the end of the list of Democratic fundraisers, Dodd is pinning his presidential dreams on the possibility that either the front-runner, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), will stumble or that the next two leaders, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and former senator John Edwards (N.C.), will fail to live up to expectations in early-primary states.

In the meantime, Dodd is slowly building a campaign organization around his main credential -- his substantial experience in government, particularly on foreign policy and education issues -- while tapping his network of Democratic colleagues around the country. He has about 40 full-time staff members in Iowa, working out of eight field offices and his main headquarters. He has aired television ads and is making approximately 6,000 canvassing calls a week.

While Clinton and Obama made high-profile tours through Iowa this week, dueling one another for airtime and exchanging subtle barbs, Dodd plugged cheerfully away on his "River to River Tour" across the state, stopping at Fourth of July events and small-town delis to introduce himself and to take questions.

"This kind of an opportunity begins to disappear in these larger states -- you can't really do what we're doing here," Dodd told a group of about 35 people at Clarke College in Dubuque, referring to the wave of large states scheduled to hold primaries simultaneously on Feb. 5 of next year.

"You haven't made up your minds yet. You're looking and you're shopping, and you're going to give me a chance," Dodd said.

The beauty of the Iowa caucuses, he said, is that "people like me have to come before you, not only give you my ideas but also respond to your questions." On her recent tour, traveling in a closely contained motorcade with her husband and Secret Service agents, Clinton took few questions from voters.

During an interview on his campaign bus as it rolled through eastern Iowa, Dodd talked at length about his platform -- his central issues are energy independence, encouraging a new wave of public service, education and withdrawing the troops from Iraq -- as well as the politics of an election process that he acknowledges has not thus far favored him despite his decades of experience in the Senate.

But he still sees reason for optimism. "This thing should be over with, and it's not," Dodd said. In competing against such celebrities as Clinton and Obama, he said he should be having even more difficulties.

Although Dodd is averaging around 2 percent in the polls, he has raised $12.5 million this year -- $3.25 million of it in the most recent quarter, with just over $6.5 million on hand -- ordinarily an impressive sum, but one that pales, compared with the tens of millions raised by Obama and Clinton.

At times, Dodd seems to be pursuing his bid as much out of affection for the campaign trail as out of a hunger to win; on Wednesday night, after a long day of campaigning, he ordered the campaign bus back out to take him and his 5-year-old daughter, Grace, to see Fourth of July fireworks in Cedar Rapids.

When Dodd visited the famous "Field of Dreams" site here on Thursday -- the place where filmmakers made the 1989 movie starring Kevin Costner as an Iowa corn farmer who hears voices telling him to build a baseball stadium -- he stopped to talk to caucus-goers briefly, then took some swings with a Little League team. (He walked but was thrown out running from second to third a few plays later).

His staff members cheered from the sidelines while his two young daughters and his wife, Jackie, played in the grass.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company