IOWA CITY, Iowa – Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd is banking that voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, with their preference for vetting candidates in cafes instead of convention halls, will level the playing field among Democrats seeking the party's presidential nomination.
In the primary season's early stages, Dodd and a handful of other Democrats find themselves far behind headliners such as Sens. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards.
Dodd acknowledges — and even jokes about — his uphill climb, but he's not about to panic.
"There is enough time yet to change this, because there are places like Iowa and New Hampshire that give candidates like myself a chance to be heard," Dodd told The Associated Press on Tuesday before a lunch meet-and-greet in this Big Ten college town.
In recent weeks, visits to Iowa by Clinton and Obama have attracted thousands of voters, and Edwards' stop in Dubuque on Sunday drew about 450 — in sharp contrast to the 30 potential supporters who gathered to listen to Dodd.
The large crowds so early in the nominating season have forced organizers to plan events in gymnasiums or hotel ballrooms. It also has caused political analysts to wonder if the intimate home visits and stops at small-town diners — time-tested hallmarks of campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire — are part of an outdated political playbook.
Dodd doesn't think so.
And despite significant name recognition hurdles to overcome, Dodd said he believes voters will soon grow weary of the big-venue rallies and national pundits focused solely on top-tier candidates.
"Unless this has all changed, and I don't believe that it has, then chatting in a living room face to face is still a very important feature of campaigning here," Dodd said. "I don't think you can come in here and do sort of a wholesale political operation from 35,000 feet with a pit stop here and there and a media campaign behind you."
On Monday in Des Moines, Dodd reiterated his call to immediately begin withdrawing American troops from Iraq and his apology for voting in favor of the 2002 resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq.
His message Tuesday focused on his experience, an asset he hopes will close the gap on the frontrunners. Dodd was elected to the House in 1974 and won his first term in the Senate in 1980.
This year, he took over as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and played a key role in 2002 when the committee drafted laws to reform accounting standards in the wake of corporate scandals by Enron and Worldcom Inc.
He is also a veteran of the Foreign Relations Committee, helped write the Family Medical Leave Act passed in 1992 and has built a reputation as a strong advocate on education and children's issues.
"This is not a warm-up for a future run," the 62-year-old Dodd joked with the crowd at a downtown deli/coffee shop.
"I think experience matters. There is so much at stake right now, more I think than at any time in this country," he said. "People are desperate for leadership. And I think experience has a significance now that it hasn't had in the past."