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The Washington Insider: Christopher J. Dodd

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) is really committed to win Iowa. He moved his wife, Jackie Clegg, and their two young daughters to Des Moines, even enrolled them in a local elementary school.

Like his friend, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Dodd, 63, has been a Washington insider for most of his adult life, elected to the House in 1975 and the Senate in 1980, following in the footsteps of his father, Thomas J. Dodd, a senator from Connecticut during the 1960s.

Early on, Dodd was an old-school politician of the quick-witted, backslapping variety. His skills at fundraising and relationship-building propelled him to the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee in the 1990s -- an ideal pit stop for a presidential hopeful.

Now chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Dodd has a healthier campaign bank account than other second-tier candidates, reporting nearly $4 million in cash on hand as of Sept. 30. Ample funds have allowed him to build an impressive Iowa organization, including 13 campaign offices and about 70 paid staffers. And yet Dodd is polling about even with Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich in Iowa. The Ohio Democrat has spent six days in the state this year, compared with 80 days for Dodd, the highest total of any Democratic candidate.

Also like Biden, Dodd is counting on Iowa Democrats to show up on caucus night with nagging doubts about the three front-runners, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) and former senator John Edwards (N.C.), whose Senate service totals just 15 years. Despite his inability to gain traction, Dodd has offered only restrained criticism of his rivals, although he did rebuke Clinton after she sided with the Bush administration in September on a controversial Senate vote on Iran.

Dodd is considered business-friendly, at least for a Democrat. He has supported limits on class-action suits and various benefits for insurance companies. He also has a strong civil rights record and was a chief sponsor of the Family and Medical Leave Act, a landmark employment bill. A former Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic, Dodd speaks fluent Spanish and has taken an active interest in Latin American issues.

Some Democrats urged Dodd to run for president in 2004 and still believe he may have had a shot at the nomination. But this year, the Democratic electorate appears to be in a different mood. Otherwise jovial, Dodd has turned solemn on the stump, delivering impassioned appeals to end torture, close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, and withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

He tells Iowans again and again that he deeply regrets having voted to authorize the conflict: "I wish I could have that vote back."

[Full coverage of Dodd on washingtonpost.com]

-- Shailagh Murray


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