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Biden and Dodd have been around and that's good

Published April 22, 2007


In recent weeks, we have been trying to make the case for how each major 2008 presidential contender could win the White House. These aren't predictions or endorsements, mind you, just food for thought. Last week was Republican Mitt Romney. This week we double up with Democrats Joe Biden and Chris Dodd.


President Biden or President Dodd. Don't laugh; either is plausible.

When the three leading Democrats have the least experience of the field and nearly 10 months to stumble or fade, why would we write off two of Washington's most respected leaders on domestic and foreign policy?

True, senators rarely win the White House, and Biden and Dodd are barely registering in the polls. But in the post-9/11 political climate, old assumptions underestimating experience and accomplishment aren't necessarily valid. Consider the credentials of the Democratic front-runners temporarily sucking up all the attention:

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama wants to become the most powerful leader in the world, but most of his governing experience is as a state senator representing fewer people than many Tampa Bay county commissioners do.

Then there's John Edwards and Hillary Clinton. Their experience consists more or less of serving a Senate term while positioning for a presidential run. Clinton lived in the White House, but big deal. So did Jenna Bush.

Forget today's polls and don't scoff at the notion of Sens. Dodd of Connecticut or Biden of Delaware rising into the top tier over the next nine months or New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

Remember, Joe Lieberman was the heavy Democratic frontrunner in early 2003 polls, and late in 2003 almost everybody assumed Howard Dean had a nomination lock.

We're lumping Biden and Dodd into one column today because these veteran Northeastern senators have such similar challenges and paths to win.

Both offer hefty resumes and considerable personal charm, and both need several of the frontrunners to stumble to give them an opening. These are savvy centrist Democrats who, given the state of the GOP, need little argument for winning.

Let's take them one at a time.

"Of all the Democrats I'd probably least like to run against Chris Dodd, because he's got all the credentials - foreign policy and domestic," Charles Black, a prominent Republican strategist and lobbyist, told me. "He's liberal, but not too liberal."

A former Peace Corps volunteer, Dodd arrived in the U.S. House in 1974 and the Senate in 1980. At a time when Americans are fed up with petty partisanship, the 62-year-old Connecticut senator has a record of reaching across the aisle to get things done in Washington.

Dodd is the author the Family Medical Leave Act. The chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and second-ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee has been pushing for "pay-as-you-go" antideficit budgeting for decades, and while voting to authorize force in Iraq was skeptical and argued North Korea posed a greater threat.

"At the end of the day we need an adult," said Palm Beach resident John Cohlan, a Jimmy Buffett business partner helping raise money for Dodd in South Florida. "And Chris Dodd is someone with real international experience, who understands the world, and is a realist when it comes to economic policy and businesses."

Which brings us to Biden, 64, whose admirers cite nearly identical reasons to make his case - experience, gravitas and an ability to connect with people. It's foolish so early in the campaign to write off the Democrats' leading foreign policy voice when Iraq is likely to remain the top issue.

"I'm still idealistic enough that I want to support the person who, given the circumstances, is the right person to govern," said Michael Adler, a South Florida developer and prominent Democratic fundraiser.

Biden voted to authorize force Iraq in 2002, but showed prescience: "Saddam's downfall could lead to widespread civil unrest and reprisals."

The Irish-Catholic son of a car salesman lost his wife and daughter in a car accident after arriving in Congress at 29 and for five years raised two sons as a single dad. He is a tough-on-crime Democrat with labor and law enforcement support.

He still has a network of supporters in all-important Iowa, especially in heavily Catholic eastern Iowa, from his 1987 presidential bid.

"The median age of Iowa caucusgoers is 60, and they're less interested in sizzle than steak," said Biden campaign manager Luis Navarro.

The path for Biden and Dodd is the same. They finish in the top two or three in Iowa, win New Hampshire and then ride the momentum. The general election is easy, as each sells substance, competence and foreign policy experience against the seriously damaged GOP brand.

It all depends on them overcoming the front-runners who are blocking out the sun for now.

"Eventually early state voters, who are a seasoned and serious collection of citizens, go looking for a president," said Jim Jordon, a Dodd adviser. "They're looking to pick the leader of the fee world, they're not looking for celebrity or gimmickry."

Adam C. Smith can be reached at or (727)893-8241.

[Last modified April 21, 2007, 19:35:40]

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