Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd made a good impression on Florida Democratic Party activists Saturday in his first major appearance since announcing he'll explore a 2008 White House run.
He warmed up a crowd of about 175 by talking about his friendship with popular Florida Democrats like former Sen. Bob Graham and the late Gov. Lawton Chiles and by mentioning the state's 2000 presidential recount and his efforts to fix voting problems .
He went on to rouse the group with a speech that criticized the war in Iraq, called for a minimum wage increase, stressed the need for alternative fuels, declared education as the nation's most important issue, promised to protect Social Security and pointed out problems in the health care system.
Dodd said people are "nauseated" by the country's polarization under President Bush.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson spoke Saturday night and retired Gen. Wesley Clark on Sunday morning. Both also are considering presidential runs.
Richardson largely focused on international problems and improving the United States' standing with the rest of the world.
"Military power and diplomacy are not alternatives to one another, but rather are complementary sources of strength," he said. "What this administration has failed to understand is that while diplomacy without power is weak, power without diplomacy is blind."
Was Dodd impressive enough to be considered for president?
"Oh God, yes!" said Casey O'Harra, 65, who chairs the Lake County Democrats. "I would definitely be able to support him as president."
Jacqulyn Mack, 36, of Sarasota said she likes New York Sen. Hillary Clinton but questions whether she can win the presidency and would love to see a run by former Vice President Al Gore, who lost the presidency in 2000 after Florida's five-week recount gave Bush a 537-vote win.
But she can see herself supporting Dodd because he is electable. "I've got my options wide open," she said. "I want somebody that's going to win. Senator Dodd's history and his experience and his background give him a great deal of appeal to people across the political spectrum."
"I haven't thought about Dodd that much," said Pat Hogan, the Highlands County Democratic chair. "I probably will. It was a great speech."