Sen. Dodd kicks off campaign with rally


HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Sen. Chris Dodd told a rally in his home state Friday that his experience and an urgent need for change in the White House are the driving factors behind his bid for the presidency, a race that has already drawn a crowded field.

The 62-year-old Democrat addressed dozens of supporters in the historic Old State House in downtown Hartford shortly before leaving on a swing through New Hampshire.

A Senate veteran of 26 years, Dodd said because of his experience he’s ready to lead from the first day in office.

“I believe experience is going to matter. We can’t afford four more years of on-the-job training in the oval office,” said Dodd, standing in front of a painting of George Washington. “We need an American president who is ready to lead from day one, and I am. And I’m ready to lead this country and with your help I will.”

Dodd, who officially announced his candidacy last week, enters a growing Democratic field overshadowed by two likely, well-known candidates – Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, who formed an exploratory committee this week.

Outgoing Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack has already announced his candidacy, as have former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich. Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joe Biden of Delaware and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson also are considering a run.

Dodd brushed aside questions about being little known outside Connecticut.

“The important thing is here, there’s 12 months to go,” he told reporters after the speech.

He said primary voters are willing to consider all the candidates.

Supporters at Friday’s rally, including many of the state’s top Democrats, said they believe Dodd has a good chance, despite the large number of expected candidates for 2008.

“Our experience, our values tell us there is only one candidate in the race with the experience, intelligence and passion to take on that fight and win the presidency,” said U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who introduced Dodd and his family.

Dodd and his wife Jackie Marie Clegg, have two daughters, ages 5 and 22 months.

Throughout his decades-long career in Washington, the Connecticut senator has forged strong ties with labor unions, championed fiscal accountability for corporations and championed education and other children’s issues. This month, he became chairman of the influential Senate Banking Committee and is a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

In his speech Friday, Dodd reiterated the need to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq.

“We should be winding down in Iraq,” Dodd said. “The government of Iraq and the people of Iraq need to take responsibility for their own futures.”

Dodd, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he plans to seek support next week for his plan to cap the number of troops in Iraq to block President Bush’s planned troop surge. He said it’s a more meaningful step than the proposed Senate Democratic resolution declaring that the increase is “not in the national interest of the United States.

“I think it’s terribly wrong to send 20,000 more young Americans to Baghdad,” Dodd said.

He voted in 2002 to authorize military intervention in Iraq, but has become an outspoken critic of the war and he now calls his vote a mistake. It’s in sharp contrast to the position taken by U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who supports additional troops.

Lieberman has avoided endorsing Dodd. While Dodd supported Lieberman during his bruising primary last year, he later switched to support Greenwich millionaire Ned Lamont in the general election.

Lamont attended the rally Friday.

In 1974, Dodd was elected to the House at the age of 30, part of a Democratic tide after the Watergate scandal and President Nixon’s resignation. His father, Thomas Dodd, served as a senator for two terms.

His supporters said that Dodd, strongly popular in Connecticut throughout his political career, has what it takes to win over the rest of America.

“I think once he’s out there and people see him in action, they’ll be impressed,” said state Rep. Chris Donovan, D-Meriden.

“I think he’s probably the solution. I think he’s the solution for the Democrats,” said Gina Russell Tracy, a playwright from Guilford who attended Friday’s rally. “He may seem like an underdog now. He may seem like the top dog later.”

AP-ES-01-19-07 2049EST