Four-term Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut said Monday that he will not join the crowded field for the Democratic Party's 2004 presidential nomination.

While Dodd said he believed new leadership is needed to deal with the continuing threat of terrorism and a struggling economy, the 58-year-old lawmaker said the presidential election is months away and he felt he could do more in the near-term.

"Every Senate voice and every Senate vote could make a difference in the coming days," Dodd told a news conference at the Old State House in downtown Hartford. At the session, Dodd also said he had no interest in serving as the vice presidential nominee on a Democratic ticket.

"Decisions will be made in Washington during that time that could well prove to be irreversible and irreparable for our children, for our environment, for working families and for an America that wishes to walk tall and secure through the 21st Century," said Dodd, who is up for re-election in 2004.

Nine Democrats - including Connecticut's junior senator, Joe Lieberman - have announced their candidacies or created committees to begin fund raising for a possible White House bid.

Dodd said he informed Lieberman of his decision Monday morning. He would not say whether he would endorse Lieberman for president.

"I have great respect for Joe," he said. "We're wonderful friends and obviously there will be a time when I will make a statement about that. But today I wanted to be just about what my plans are going to be over the next two years."

To no surprise, Lieberman issued a statement saying he was pleased that Dodd decided against becoming the fifth senator to jump into the presidential fray.

"I must admit that it would have been tough to be in the same race with someone who is not only such a fine public servant, but also such a good friend," Lieberman said.

Dodd had been widely quoted in recent months as indicating an interest in the nomination, but the Journal Inquirer of Manchester, Conn., citing party insiders it did not identify, reported Jan. 31 that he likely would not seek the nomination.

Dodd, who formerly headed the Democratic National Committee, visited California, Florida and North Carolina in recent months but did not make requisite stops in New Hampshire or Iowa, where the first primaries and caucuses can go a long way toward determining the party's nominee.

First elected to the Senate in 1980, Dodd was author of the landmark Family and Medical Leave Act guaranteeing workers at larger companies time off to care for a new child or sick relative. Dodd, who served in the Dominican Republic as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960s, has been a leading voice on foreign policy, particularly issues involving Latin America and South America.

Dodd challenged South Dakota's Tom Daschle for his party's Senate leadership job in 1995 and lost by a single vote.