Chris Dodd's perfect squelch

Despite his long-shot stealth campaign, the Connecticut senator is deftly deflating Hillary's claims of experience.

Published November 18, 2007 2:52PM (EST)

The boast remains the centerpiece of Hillary Clinton's campaign and the former first lady sold it aggressively during Thursday night's Democratic debate: "It is important that we have a candidate who is tested and a president who is ready to lead from Day 1." Chris Dodd, who has served in Congress during six different presidencies, has been responding with the perfect squelch.

Speaking Saturday afternoon at the local Democratic headquarters here, Dodd took aim at the front-runner when he declared, "Anybody who stands before you and says, 'I'm ready to do the job on Day 1' ought to be disqualified. This is unique, this job. [When] you can sit behind the desk in the Oval Office, you can be better prepared and I believe I am. But you can't be totally prepared for this." In an interview afterward, Dodd suggested the proper attitude for anyone who inherits the White House in 2009: "They ought to be nervous."

During the question period in Marshalltown, the silver-haired Connecticut senator went after Clinton's television-ad claim that only she can pass healthcare reform because she "has the scars to prove it." With his voice dripping with derision, Dodd said, "The political scars are nothing. The scars" -- for people still without healthcare -- "are far more important than any bruises you got because you were in a political battle ... If repeated failure is an advertisement for the presidency, then George Bush should be considered the greatest American president in history."

A Sunday morning hunch: This is the first time that you are encountering these Dodd quotes. Calling Dodd a voice in the wilderness understates the loneliness of his underdog campaign. Nonetheless, it is a vile rumor that you can reckon the number of Iowa voters at a Dodd event on the fingers of both hands. To count the house properly in Marshalltown would have also required the removal of both shoes. And instead of network TV crews, Dodd was trailed by a photographer who specializes in taking pictures of candidates with an updated version of a 19th century hooded view camera.

Yet there is a reason to take Dodd and his Senate counterpart Joe Biden (half) seriously. Surprising candidates can emerge out of the cornfields during the closing weeks before the Iowa caucuses. There remains a glimmer of a possibility (please, please do not call your bookie upon reading these words) that Dodd, Biden or Bill Richardson could have a spotlight moment by successfully hijacking the ready-to-lead-on-Day-1 issue.

For all of Hillary Clinton's eight tumultuous years in the White House, for all of Barack Obama's legislative victories in the Illinois state Senate, for all of John Edwards' courtroom triumphs, the three Iowa favorites collectively have only served 17 years in elected national office. In contrast, Dodd and Biden have each spent more than three decades on Capitol Hill. Yes, they often sound like stentorian senators rather than carefully choreographed candidates. But they do boast the traditional kind of Washington experience that was supposed to be required for future presidents after the towers tumbled and our world was upended on 9/11.

Having written these last two dreamy paragraphs, I will now rejoin political reality by rushing off to spend the afternoon trailing Obama.

By Walter Shapiro

Walter Shapiro, a Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, is an award-winning political columnist who has covered the last nine presidential campaigns. Along the way, he has worked as Salon's Washington bureau chief, as well as for The Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, Esquire, USA Today and, most recently, Yahoo News. He is also a lecturer in political science at Yale University. He can be reached by email at and followed on Twitter @MrWalterShapiro.

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2008 Elections Christopher Dodd D-conn.