Dodd carries Northeast liberal tag into 2008 race
WASHINGTON --Sen. Christopher Dodd's image as a Northeast liberal could pose a hurdle in his longshot bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
The Connecticut senator will be running in the turbulent wake of another prominent New England liberal, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Kerry's losing 2004 campaign embittered some Democrats who contend he squandered a prime chance for his party to capture the White House. Those bad feelings have lingered as the 2008 contest begins to unfold.
"The party just nominated a New England liberal whose campaign was a failure," said Dante Scala, an associate professor of politics at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire who wrote "Stormy Weather," a book about the state's primary. "That's going to be one strike against" Dodd.
Dodd brushed aside any suggestion that his Northeast liberal roots could hurt his candidacy.
"It's a false assumption," Dodd said in a telephone interview Thursday with The Associated Press. "People don't think in those terms... Most Americans don't care about these labels we put on."
Most voters are more concerned about bread-and-butter issues such as health care and jobs, not political labels, said Dodd, a five-term senator.
"The overwhelming number of people want to know what you can do to put the country back on track," Dodd said. "They don't care about labels."
Another Northeast liberal, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, could also pose problems for Dodd if, as expected, she joins the expanding Democratic field.
"If Hillary Clinton gets in, she casts a long shadow -- especially over fellow Northeastern senators like Dodd," said Scala.
Clinton, with her star power and her ability to raise large amounts of campaign cash, ranks as one of the race's prospective heavyweights. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama cuts a similar high-voltage profile.
Kerry, meanwhile, is also considering running again in 2008. His candidacy would add yet another Northeast liberal to the crowded Democratic pack, crowding Dodd.
Several Democrats have already entered the race or are expected to do so soon.
Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who leaves office Friday, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden have joined the field. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson also probably will run.
Dodd is little-known in key primary and caucus states, which will make it hard for him to break through.
"He's one of many senators with presidential ambitions," said Earl Black, a Rice University political scientist. "Nothing leaps to the mind that would make a unique case for Dodd."
Scala sees a two-tier race unfolding with the "haves" against the "have nots."
The upper tier includes Clinton, Edwards and Obama. The lower tier is pretty much everyone else.
"Chris Dodd is among everybody else right now," said Scala, noting that despite his New England roots, his name recognition in New Hampshire is low.
Dodd, 62, has begun building a national campaign in earnest. He's hiring staff, expanding his fundraising base and planning more trips to early-voting states.
But in key presidential primary and caucus states like Iowa and New Hampshire, where the jockeying for the party nomination is already intense, Dodd's footprint is light. Other Democratic hopefuls boast higher profiles and more commitments from the local party activists who are the lifeblood of primary campaigns.
Dodd, however, hopes to spotlight his work on health care and children's issues to win over liberal voters who dominate Democratic primaries. He's also confident his quarter-century of foreign policy experience in the Senate will strike a chord with voters worried about national security and America's place in the world.
Dodd said he has raised "just shy" of $5 million for his White House bid. Dodd's numbers are eclipsed by rivals such as Clinton and Kerry, who each have about $14 million in campaign funds.
"It gives us a good start," he said. "We're getting a good start."
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