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Election 2008

Also Running for President: Chris Dodd

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Apart from Hillary, Obama and Rudy, there are many, many presidential candidates who aren't among those who will ever be covered by the media. No one is giving these candidates any chance of winning, so we want to know: why do they keep running? Weekend America's John Moe goes on the Iowa campaign trail with Senator Chris Dodd, Democrat from Connecticut.


By John Moe

There are lots of Hillary Clinton yard signs in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa; a fact you notice driving to the Chris Dodd campaign event at Iowa Wesleyan College. Once you arrive, there's plenty of parking. Inside, no shortage of chairs.

Roughly half of the 35 attendees at the event are students assigned to show up for a journalism class, some are Dodd campaign workers, and the rest are mostly elderly Iowans wanting to learn more about the Connecticut Senator currently registering one percent in the polls. Hillary is the front runner, but Chris Dodd is also running for president.

"Iowans tell me, this is far from over with," said Dodd. "They don't like being told by national media or by polling data what the outcome is going to be."

The Iowa caucuses, held in January, are social occasions. Voters don't just cast ballots, they meet and talk. Bicker. For hours. It's personal. Less national politics, more office politics. Lacking zillions of dollars and a high profile, Dodd's only chance is in these small get-togethers. That can make for awkward moments.

"And that's why so many people here are undecided. I talk to people all the time. I have decided but I'm an activist who has been involved in this process start to finish, and committed to a candidate last time and I'm with that candidate this time, Senator Edwards," said Henry County Democratic chair Dave Holman, standing right next to Chris Dodd. "And I hate to say this in your presence because number two is second but Senator Dodd is absolutely my number two pick."

Dodd smiled. He had to.

I followed the Dodd campaign, traveling from Mt. Pleasant to Ottumwa, Iowa. While the senator was meeting with the editorial board of the local paper, I stopped in next door at the Common Grounds coffee shop. At the counter, Tim Crawford was still worked up over a visit that morning from Edwards.

"I was freaking out the whole time," he said, breathlessly. When told Chris Dodd was also in his town, Crawford looked confused. "I'm not sure who that is, honestly. I'm sorry."

The thing is, in Washington, everyone knows Chris Dodd. Author of the Family Medical Leave Act, member of the Foreign Relations Committee, 26-year Senator. But now he needs to make Iowans see him the same way Washingtonians do, and Iowa is over 800 miles away. At the Ottumwa UAW hall, Dodd spoke to union workers. His talk was often interrupted by fervent applause originating in the back of the room. That's where Dodd's cadre of young campaign workers was positioned, trying to jumpstart the crowd.

The hope of Dodd's campaign is that a few sparks in small halls will start a statewide fire of support. Traveling in a van from Ottumwa to Fairfield, Iowa, Dodd defended his chances.

"Polling doesn't really reflect how people are going to vote in January," he said, "And when I talk about childcare and family medical leave and financial services and housing issues and the like that I've made a difference on, that I think people are going to gravitate to that quality, that results oriented kind of leadership."

But experience cuts both ways. I asked Dodd about an incident from his past, a 1970's era donut fight with fellow members of congress. Dodd laughed as he recalled it. "Harold Ford who was the congressman from Memphis took a group of us who were there for a mini-convention to visit the home of Elvis Presley. And afterwards to stop for some coffee and donuts that turned into a spontaneous jelly donut pitching contest. I think. Or something. And it was a lot of fun and we obviously compensated the donut shop."

In Fairfield, Dodd's last stop of the day, he spoke to about 50 people in a basement meeting room. Some were supporters, some just curious. As he talked, Jennifer Lunsford made sure the cookies and pies were prepared for the mingling session afterwards. She heads up the Jefferson county Democrats and says she was courted by many campaigns but only one candidate, "I was definitely getting hit by all sides. Senator Dodd is the only that has ever personally called me."

So was it the personal care, then, that won her over to Dodd? "That is a big thing, yeah," she said. As the caucuses approach, Dodd will need to create a lot more Jennifer Lunsfords in order to survive.

  • Music Bridge:
    Make Out Machine
    Artist: Slow Poke
    CD: At Home (Palmetto)
More stories from our Election 2008 series


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