March 10, 2003 - New Haven Register: Senator Dodd opts for the Senate

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Senator Dodd opts for the Senate

Read and comment on this story from the New Haven Register on why Senator Dodd decided to stay in the Senate and not opt to pursue a run for the Presidency.

He thinks he could have won. He wonít rule it out in the future. But when it came to choosing between an uncertain future on the campaign trail and a continued role debating issues in the Senate ó policy won out over politics. Read the story at:


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Dodd explains why he opted for a sure thing
Lolita C. Baldor, Register Washington Bureau March 10, 2003
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., and his wife, Jackie Clegg. AP
WASHINGTON ó The little blond pixie is staring wide-eyed up at the clock on the wall of Chris Doddís Capitol Hill office.

"Buzzer," she said, looking hopefully at the bleating device that summons senators to the chamber for votes. "Again? Again?"

Yes, again. Dodd, the stateís senior senator said last week heíll continue to answer the call of the buzzer and end his presidential ambitions, at least for now.

But in true fatherly fashion, he wants it known that his 18-month-old daughter, Grace, and his relatively new family duties were not the reason he declined to join the crush of Democrats vying for the presidential nomination.
He thinks he could have won. He wonít rule it out in the future. But when it came to choosing between an uncertain future on the campaign trail and a continued role debating issues in the Senate ó policy won out over politics.

"I said to myself ... ĎAre you willing to take that chance, and give up being a part of the debate that is here, and a part of all future debates, if it doesnít work out?í" said Dodd last week. "And I want to be involved in the debate this year. I think itís going to be a significant place to be. I couldnít be involved in that debate if Iím out on the campaign trail."

Relaxing in his Russell Building office just days after he made his decision public, Dodd and his wife, Jackie Clegg, talked about politics and parenthood, and the role he plans to play in the coming months.

Was it the hardest decision heís ever had to make?

Doddís momentary pause is quickly filled by a laughing Clegg, his wife of almost four years.

"The hardest decision was asking me to marry him," she quipped as she crossed the room and scooped up a book for Grace. "That one took him 11½ years."

"No, no," Dodd quickly inserts. But it was, he said, one of the hardest "political" decisions, and one Clegg did her best not to influence.

Instead, she said, "I tried to encourage him to do whatever he felt passionate about." And she thinks he made the right choice.

"Iím more convinced of it every day," she said. "It feels very good. For him, this wasnít the right time."

It may not have been the right time, but those who know him say they never saw Dodd agonize more over a decision. And the echoes of the inner debate still reverberate.

The smallest factor in his ruminations was the littlest Dodd.

Born just days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Grace brings a quick glint to his eyes and a broad smile to his face. At 58, Dodd came late to fatherhood.

But, said Clegg, "waiting was a great advantage for him. He knows who he is; his ego is pretty set. I think Grace is more of a joy to him. Heís good at it. She brings out the best in him."

Dodd, who is laughing as Grace gleefully bangs one of his small, egg-shaped wooden presidential statues ó President Carter, in fact ó against the coffee table, said he has better perspective now.

"As you get older, whatís important (in life) changes," he said. "Your appreciation of life is deeper, and there is a tendency to be much more jealous of the moments. Thereís no question where youíd rather be."

Still, he thinks it would have been easier to run for president now, when Grace is younger.

"Younger children tend to think more in the present," he said. "As they get older, you can make the case that they would miss you more."

But while family interests had "almost no" impact on his decision, other factors did.

First, he knew heíd have to choose: Stay in the Senate or run for president.

Nearly three years ago, as Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., was running for re-election to his third term, he was tapped to run as Al Goreís vice presidential running mate. Lieberman decided to run for both, and thus was able to keep his Senate seat when they lost the White House bid.

Dodd, who is up for re-election to a fifth term in 2004, would not repeat that move.

"My view was that if I was going to run for the presidency, I would have to simultaneously rule out seeking re-election to the Senate, for my own peace of mind," said Dodd.

So he asked himself, "Where is the better place? Is it better to be one of nine or 10 candidates running for president? Is that where the debate is going to occur? Or is it going to occur here (in Congress.)"

At the same time, Dodd was talking to close friends and supporters ó from Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Lisa Pelosi, D-Calif., to former Connecticut Rep. Toby Moffett and former campaign manager Doug Sosnik.

Did he have the guts to run? Could he win? Could he raise the $20 million heíd need to slog through the early primaries?

As the weeks dragged on, and a multitude of Democrats, including Lieberman, threw their hats into the ring, Dodd dissected the pros and cons.

"There were moments when I said, ĎWhy are you doing this? If youíre not willing to take the risk, what are you doing in public life?í" Dodd recalled. "Public life is not a place where you come to occupy space. If you just want to stay comfortable, then you have no business being here."

Supporters called, offering money and encouragement, until he didnít want to answer the phone anymore.

A charismatic campaigner, Dodd was named chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1994 and helped reinvigorate his party after the Republican landslide. His efforts gained him loyal supporters nationwide, and many were now pushing him to run.

"So many people were reserving their support for him, he didnít want to disappoint them," said Clegg, adding that Dodd "had some unique advantages," including his service as a Peace Corps volunteer and his strong ties to the Hispanic and black communities.

In the end, Dodd came to two conclusions.

"Could I have won? Yeah, I think I could have won the nomination. I think I could have won the presidency," he said.

But, since "there was a greater likelihood that I could get re-elected than (that) I was going to be nominated and win the presidency," Dodd ultimately concluded that he couldnít leave the Senate, the legislative body where his father served, the place where he is carving a legacy of his own.

"Iím ranked 16th in seniority; Iím close to chairing four different major committees. I made the decision ... to be here in this debate," he said. "Thatís something you just donít walk away from."

Former New Hampshire Democratic Chairman Joe Keefe had been ready and waiting to support Dodd for president."I wanted to support him. But the fact that heís not getting in the presidential race doesnít mean he doesnít have other options," said Keefe. "We need him in the Senate. We need his experience, his savvy."

And, he added, "Itís good that somebody is going to stick around and mind the fort."

It quickly became apparent that Dodd planned not to mind the fort, but launch his own crusade.

In rapid-fire events last week, he blasted President Bush for failing to fund education adequately, for ignoring "a far more serious and precarious situation" in North Korea than in Iraq, and for failing to extend unemployment benefits for those who have been out of work since the terrorist attacks.

He also may set up a political action committee to help finance Democratic candidates.

As for the presidency? Heíll announce his support for Liebermanís candidacy when the time is right, because "it deserves its own moment." And then?

"Weíll see how it goes," said Dodd. "It may have been my last chance (for the presidency). You never know. But I didnít make the decision thinking this was the only time. I would never say, ĎUnder no circumstances would I do it in the future.í"

©New Haven Register 2003

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