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Dodd’s Moral Victories

Although Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) isn’t getting any traction with voters in his long-shot bid for the White House, he does appear to be holding some sway in the Senate as he increasingly bests his 2008 rivals when it comes to taking hard stances on issues before the chamber.

Last month, Dodd trumped his competitors by being the first presidential candidate from the Senate to announce his opposition to Michael Mukasey as the next attorney general.

Similarly, Dodd was out front of the other White House hopefuls in vowing to filibuster a bill that would provide immunity to telecommunications companies under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It also was Dodd who earlier this year was the first presidential candidate in the Senate to oppose a war-funding supplemental bill because it lacked a specific timeline for a troop withdrawal.

While not overwhelming in number, the instances are significant in substance as they touch on some of the more controversial topics that have confronted the Senate in recent months. What’s more, Dodd’s moves have been on issues that have become part of the Democratic hopefuls’ platforms and increasingly can be heard on the campaign trail, which is a second home to Dodd and the other three Democratic White House contenders from the Senate — Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Barack Obama (Ill.) and Joseph Biden (Del.).

In an interview last week, Dodd brushed aside the suggestion that by getting out early on a topic and watching his colleagues follow suit, he is setting the tone for the Democratic race. Rather, he said: “These issues go back a long time with me … a couple of them seem so obvious to me.”

At the same time, Dodd added, “I welcome the fact [that opponents] are supportive.”

A senior Senate Democratic aide, who isn’t aligned with any of the presidential campaigns, said that while it’s not clear whether Dodd is actually shaping the other candidates’ positions, the dynamic is noteworthy.

“Maybe it’s because he has nothing to lose, maybe it’s because he is such an experienced Senator,” the staffer said. “But whatever the reason, Dodd has really been out front on a few key issues, forcing Clinton and Obama to follow in his wake. To some degree, he’s driving the positions of candidates running from the Senate on major issues they are forced to vote on.”

It’s no secret that Dodd has little to no chance at cinching his party’s nod for the presidency next year. He ranks below 2 percent in every public opinion poll tracking the Democratic candidates, both nationally and in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

One Obama supporter said Dodd’s standing in the polls speaks volumes about the similarity of some of the Democratic candidates’ positions, saying: “The fact is that a game of copycat is a much bigger deal when the candidate has a chance of winning. But the Dodd train isn’t moving anywhere anytime soon.”

That may be, but Dodd is known as one of the Senate’s more ambitious Members, and he doesn’t appear ready to abandon his White House bid just yet. Coincidentally, rumors have emerged in recent weeks that Dodd — if unsuccessful in 2008 — may also have his sights on a future run for the Senate Democratic leadership, if and when Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) vacates the top slot.

Whatever his future, Dodd’s campaign is certainly keen on turning his Senate views into a campaign fundraising tool. In a recent e-mail to supporters called “update,” Dodd looked to entice donors by touting his recent stands opposing immunity under FISA and a Senate amendment that designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization and expressed concern that the Iranian administration’s “increasingly provocative rhetoric” has hindered U.S. diplomatic efforts with the Middle Eastern country.

The American people “appreciate his Iran vote, consistent leadership on Iraq and really are beginning to recognize that when he takes a position on an issue, the rest of the candidates seem to follow his lead,” the Dodd e-mail said.

The United States’ relationship with Iran has become a major discussion point among the Democratic presidential candidates, who split their votes on the related resolution when it came before the Senate. Dodd and Biden voted against the proposal, while Clinton supported it. Obama did not vote but has said he opposes the amendment in principle.

Dodd declined to question the timing or reasoning behind his Senate competitors’ votes, or their like-minded positions. But he did say he believes a major selling point of any presidential candidate is having “a clear idea” of where he or she wants to take the country.

“I never question the motives as to why people do what they do,” Dodd said. But he added that it’s not the time to “lag behind when people are looking for leadership — that’s clear.”

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