Languishing in the polls, Democrat Christopher Dodd says he's banking on a late surge by Iowa supporters — and might survive a finish as low as fourth place in the state's leadoff caucuses if too few show up.
"Iowans make up their minds late in this process and the door is still wide, wide open here in terms of people deciding," Dodd says. "The last two weeks, they will make up their minds."
Dodd is banking heavily on a good showing in Iowa to boost his long-shot campaign. He's even moved his wife and two young children to the state, and is devoting far more campaign time to Iowa than virtually all of his rivals. The campaign announced Wednesday that he would skip the Democratic National Committee meeting in the Washington area later this week to campaign in Iowa.
He dismisses his low standing in opinion surveys.
"Those are polling numbers," said Dodd. "When you end up with about 100,000 people showing up on caucus night, it's different than polling."
Could history repeat?
In making his case, he cited some recent history.
"John Kerry, again in late December, was 20 points behind here," said Dodd. "He was about 3 percent in polls nationally, he was 25 points behind in New Hampshire on Jan. 5, about three weeks before their primary," and ended up winning the Democratic contests in both states.
There is likely to be a similar late surge in this election cycle, said Dodd.
"I take great heart, Iowans don't like to be told ahead of time, they make up their minds at the end," said Dodd. "History has taught us in this state that the last 10 days are crucial."
Dodd has secured the endorsement of the International Association of Fire Fighters, whose backing proved crucial to Kerry when his campaign was languishing in Iowa in 2004. A delegation of IAFF members, headed by union president Harold Schaitberger, is to begin an eight-day, 20-city campaign visit for Dodd in Iowa Thursday.
Timing has brought a new twist to the campaign this cycle, because the caucuses are now set for Jan. 3 and the closing two weeks will include Christmas and New Year's Day, holidays that typically distract voters from politics.
"The earlier caucus date, particularly the proximity to that and the holiday season is going to add a dimension to this that we haven't really thought about in the past," said Dodd. "I don't know what the impact of that will be."
In past election cycles, the state's leadoff caucuses have largely served to narrow the field of presidential candidates, winnowing the field to no more than three who get serious attention from the media. While those who finish lower sometimes have soldiered on, they largely have done so in anonymity. Dodd said that may be different this time.
"I think there may be one more, there may be four tickets out," said Dodd. Most polls have shown rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards well ahead on the fight for the caucuses, meaning Dodd would have to get past rivals Bill Richardson and Joe Biden to survive.
"I feel very good about where we are, how things are going," said Dodd. "We've got a very good operation, a very good organization working in the state, some 13 offices, about 86 people on the ground."
Dodd warned that other, better-known candidates could face negative consequences in Iowa by not meeting expectations.
"You could be a leading candidate and if you don't win in Iowa, that could also mean your race is over," said Dodd.
With 26 years in the Senate, Dodd says he has "much, much more experience" than his leading rivals, and said that will make a difference as activists tune in to the race.
Engine of change
"I think this time around, given six years of on-the-job training with the Bush administration, people are looking for leadership that not only talks about change but has been an engine of it, actually created the kind of change that people are looking for," said Dodd.
He spoke with reporters after a round-table discussion to tout his efforts to push issues important to women, including his writing the family and medical leave act and pressing to expand child care programs.
"I call this a sort of new patriotism," said Dodd. "Patriotism also means investing in people."
The family leave law currently allows for 12 weeks of unpaid leave, and Dodd is pushing a plan that would give eight weeks of paid leave. He said many people eligible to take leave during a family illness or child birth don't do so for financial reasons.
"It's because they can't afford it," said Dodd.