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Dodd struggles for support in N.H., Iowa

Democrat Chris Dodd is touching all the right bases in New Hampshire and Iowa. The problem is he hasn't yet scored big with voters.
Dodd 2008
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., speaks to attendees of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Saturday.Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Democrat Chris Dodd is touching all the right bases in New Hampshire and Iowa. The problem is he hasn't yet scored big with voters.

The Connecticut lawmaker has struggled to gain traction in the two states that begin the 2008 presidential race, barely registering above 1 percent in statewide polls. Dominating the field are fellow Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, whose combined elective experience falls far short of Dodd's 26 years in the Senate.

That hasn't stopped Dodd.

He's bought television ads in both states, visited homes for his "kitchen table conversations" and tried to paint himself as the most anti-Iraq war candidate of the pack. His staff has planned fundraisers for state candidates, visited town party meetings and wooed the power brokers among the party faithful.

"I used to call her 'Kathy,'" Dodd recently told New Hampshire party activists, including Manchester lawyer and former state party head Kathy Sullivan. "Now, I call her 'Madame Attorney General' or 'Ambassador.'"

But even such good-natured promises of promotion aren't buying Dodd the support he desperately seeks. Neither is a record that might have earned him more clout in earlier presidential contests.

Measuring up
Dodd boasts strong anti-war credentials; they are overshadowed by Obama's opposition before the 2003 invasion. He is a career supporter of firefighters; Clinton has tried to claim that constituency with her post-Sept. 11 effort. And his emphasis on diplomacy is measured against former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, D-Del.

Dodd even tried bringing his two young daughters on the campaign trail. John Edwards' children got the media attention.

"There's not a lot of breathing space," said David P. Redlawsk, a political science professor at the University of Iowa. "The media spends most of its time gushing over Obama and Clinton, and -- a little less so -- Edwards. I think candidates like Richardson and Dodd feel this most of all."

Dodd's aides, many of them veterans of Howard Dean's meteoric rise in 2004, say he is following the same path as last cycle's underdog-done-good. He's building grass-roots support in early voting states and dispatching young organizers to 10 or more town party meetings a week. In Iowa, he recently opened eight regional field offices.

"Are we getting the 10,000-person crowds of some candidates? No. We're not," said Maura Keefe, a senior adviser to the campaign. "But I was also with Howard Dean in 2003 when we'd walk into rooms and no one knew who we were."

Trying to persuade young Democratic professionals he could repair damaged U.S. credibility abroad, Dodd recounted a story involving President Kennedy and French President Charles de Gaulle during the Cuban missile crisis.

Apt as it may have been, the anecdote was lost on the crowd of mostly 20-somethings, who fidgeted and poked at their food while politely listening to the 1960s history lesson from the white-haired chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

Dodd may have more success teaming up with another name from the '60s next week -- singer Paul Simon plans to join him for two days of a bus tour through Iowa.

Winning from the second tier
If some of Dodd's material is dated, aides say his views, particularly on the unpopular war, are attuned with liberal Democrats young and old in early nominating states. Dodd has enlisted anti-war darling Ned Lamont, whom bloggers helped defeat Sen. Joe Lieberman in last year's Democratic primary in Connecticut.

Lamont lost the general election to the newly independent Lieberman, but remains popular among activists and drew as many people as Dodd during his early trips to New Hampshire. The bloggers haven't yet adopted Dodd as their man, however.

Experts say Dodd -- and others in the second tier -- can win in the early states without actually winning.

"As we all know, you don't have to win Iowa, you just have to exceed expectations," Redlawsk said.

Dodd reminds people it's early and often cites Bill Clinton, who finished No. 2 in New Hampshire in 1992 but claimed victory as "the Comeback Kid."

"People in this state remember Bill Clinton was at 2 percent _ sixth place," Dodd said. "We're in a good place. We raised enough money and we can gain momentum. ... I think people here are going to react to being told there is a price tag on the Granite State."

On Sunday, Dodd reported raising $3.25 million in the quarter from April through June, bringing his total raised this year to $7.3 million. His campaign said he had $6.5 million cash on hand at the end of the quarter.

That doesn't come close to the $32.5 million raised by Obama in the last three months. But it's certainly enough to pay for a campaign whose largest one-time expense during the first quarter was the Iowa Democratic Party's $50,000 list of caucus goers.

Dodd aides privately say they expect to match last quarter's numbers this quarter, which ends Saturday.

"The only thing I know about the New Hampshire primary, having worked it a few times, is there's going to be a surprise," Keefe said. "There always is."