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Chris Dodd

Chris Dodd

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Long a respected senator and consistent liberal for three decades, in another election Chris Dodd could have easily been the natural choice for many liberal-leaning Democrats. Dodd is well known as a skilled legislator with major progressive accomplishments to his name, as well as for being a regular fixture on Sunday morning news shows. As a Presidential candidate, however, he has to contend with a field dominated by three genuine “rock stars.” For someone so familiar to news junkies, he has attracted remarkably little attention.

Chris Dodd was born in Willimantic, Connecticut in 1944, the son of Thomas Dodd, a respected prosecutor involved in post World War II Nuremberg trials of accused Nazi war criminals. Later, the elder Dodd would become a two-term Democratic senator for his home state.

After getting his college degree, young Chris Dodd joined the Peace Corps, working for two years in the Dominican Republic and becoming a fluent Spanish speaker. Later, he joined the U.S. Army Reserves, in which he remained until 1975. Originally a strong supporter of the war in Vietnam, his attitude was fundamentally changed by the experiences of a former college roommate, who ultimately died in combat. 

More sadness followed. In 1967, Senator Thomas Dodd became embroiled in a scandal involving the use of campaign funds for personal purposes and was censured by the entire United States senate, dying of a heart attack several months later.

Not long after, Chris Dodd began attending law school, graduating in 1972 and quickly going into private practice. Despite his father’s tragic disgrace, he nevertheless quickly opted for public life. In 1974, 32-year-old was Chris Dodd was elected to represent the state’s Second Congressional District, one of a number of young Democrats elected to office in the wake of Vietnam and the Watergate scandal. He was reelected for two more congressional terms before being elected to the senate in 1980, the same year that Ronald Reagan took office.

Since then, Chris Dodd has been widely perceived as a sometimes against-the-grain liberal on a host of issues. Notably, he won praise from progressives and human rights advocates as an outspoken foe of the Reagan administration’s support of repressive, anticommunist regimes in Latin America — differing even with fellow second generation Senate Democrat Al Gore on the issue of aid to the Nicaraguan Contra paramilitaries. (Interestingly, Thomas Dodd had taken a very different stance on Latin America during the late fifties, accepting a lobbying post for CIA-installed Guatemalan dictator Carlos Castillo Armas.)

Despite his sometimes strong stances, Senator Dodd’s political style has never been inflammatory. Now a familiar white-haired, black-eyebrowed elder statesmen, he regards himself as a “common-sense leader” who has worked hard on a bipartisan basis to enact such widely popular legislation as the Family and Medical Leave Act and other bills seen as helpful to middle and lower class Americans. He is also an advocate of a “pay as you go” fiscal policy and, far more controversially, free trade agreements NAFTA and CAFTA — increasingly a major bone of contention with populists in both parties.

Like countless other old-guard Democrats, Dodd also ran afoul of liberals and other Bush Administration foes when he voted for the 2002 Iraq War Resolution. Since then, however, he has strongly criticized his own vote and has advocated that the House and Senate should de-fund the war. Also, while successfully avoiding any hint of scandal for many years, Dodd has been attacked more recently for accepting large donations from a number of accounting firms during the mid-1990s and for his later co-sponsorship of tort reform legislation favorable to that industry.

On the strictly personal side, Dodd, a Roman Catholic, divorced his wife of twelve years in 1982, two years after joining the Senate. After that, he raised some mid-eighties eyebrows for a relatively freewheeling lifestyle, which included relationships with socialite Bianca Jagger and actress-writer Carrie Fisher, best known as “Star Wars” heroine Princess Leia. Senator Dodd remained a bachelor until 1999, when he married Jackie Marie Humpa. The couple had their first daughter in 2001, making him a first-time father at age 57; another baby girl followed in 2005. When asked in 2007 about his past and relationship with Ms. Fisher, he quipped that it was all “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

Though he has announced that he will not run again in the Senate, Dodd continues to aggressively combine legislating with Presidential campaigning. The question remains: Can this canny, old-school liberal somehow translate his reputation into Presidential votes in the midst of a Democratic field dominated by a trio of charismatic powerhouses? It surely won’t be easy.

Chris Dodd on the Web

The official site of the Dodd ’08 campaign. Features news, a blog, and special features on the Senator’s efforts regarding the war in Iraq and habeas corpus.

Chris Dodd, United States Senator for Connecticut
Chris Dodd’s U.S. senate website. 

An unusually brief description of the Senator’s life and work.

Slate Presidential Mash-Up
Transcript of an interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose in which the Senator takes questions from Rose as well as readers of Slate and the Huffington Post. Subjects covered include the war in Iraq, health care, education, and, via Bill Maher, the decriminalization of marijuana.

Vote for Breakfast
A humorous blog post regarding Chris Dodd’s personal life.

First Campaign
Chris Dodd’s first congressional race is examined. Part of a series of NPR reports covering the maiden electoral races of Presidential contenders.

On YouTube

Chris Dodd
Chris Dodd’s official YouTube home page. Features interviews, testimonials, etc.

MoveOn Town Hall
The senator outlines his position on how to end the war in Iraq. From Spring of 2007.

Dodd on Education
From PBS’s “All American Presidential Forums” focusing on issues of importance to African-American’s, hosted by Tavis Smiley.

Dodd vs. O’Reilly
Chris Dodd enrages Fox News host Bill O’Reilly while defending the Daily Kos web site. A must watch.

On the Campaign Trail

While he did net a surprise endorsement from the International Association of Fire Fighters in the summer of 2007, Dodd has so far failed to light any fires with the public. On the plus side, he’s also managed to avoid any major gaffes. That sets him apart from several of the other candidates — though it’s cold comfort against the fact that Dodd is currently failing to even register on many polls.

The Quotable Chris Dodd:

On early campaigning:

"My slogan in 1974 was 'Chris Dodd listens,'" Dodd says. "Now, I had that slogan for two reasons: One, I thought it's not a bad idea to listen. And at 29, I didn't have a hell of a lot to say, either…."

On helping children:

“Twenty percent of our population is made up of children, yet children are 100 percent of our future.”

On civil liberties:

“When the public's right to know is threatened, and when the rights of free speech and free press are at risk, all of the other liberties we hold dear are endangered.”

On asking his father whether he regretted his life in politics:

“He said, 'I'd do it again in a minute. Doctors can have only so many patients, lawyers only so many clients. But a well-intended person in public life can…change the lives of millions. And I'd do it again in a minute.' And I thought, well, that's pretty good.”

Comments, questions and suggestions can be sent to Gerardo Orlando at editor@orlandoreport.com.