ALL SMILES, BUT NO BID; Dodd denies interest in spot on an Obama cabinet

DENVER — In the search for a vice president, the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama vetted two snow-haired senior senators, both hailing from reliably blue states and possessing decades of foreign-policy experience.

But in the end, it was Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware who stood on the podium here at the Democratic National Convention last week to officially join his party’s presidential ticket in the number-two spot. Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, meanwhile, could only sit nearby and watch.

Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama shakes hands with Sen. Christopher Dodd on day three of the Democratic National
Convention at the Pepsi Center on Aug. 27 in Denver. Obama was officially nominated on the last day of the convention.
Justin Sullivan
Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama shakes hands with Sen. Christopher Dodd on day three of the Democratic National Convention at the Pepsi Center on Aug. 27 in Denver. Obama was officially nominated on the last day of the convention.

This week, the 65-year-old Biden is off on the campaign trail in what certainly is the most exciting period of his political career. For the 64-year-old Dodd, it’s back to the Senate, where he has served for nearly three decades.

But don’t tell Dodd to turn his frown upside down. “I’m not disappointed at all,” he said. “Joe is a great choice.”

In a wide-ranging interview with the News last week, Dodd reflected on his chances at the vice presidency and looked ahead to his plans back in Washington. Despite spending months on the campaign trail in his own presidential bid and even moving his young family to Iowa in the run-up to that state’s caucus earlier this year, Connecticut’s senior senator says he’s happy — nay, excited — just to be going back to the Senate.

The New York Times reported last month that Dodd was among six people seriously vetted by the Obama campaign for the position of vice president. As the vetting process went on, pundits explained Obama’s choice as one between a candidate of change — say, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine — or a candidate of experience — say, Biden or Dodd.

In the end, Obama went with experience. Just not Dodd.

So was it bittersweet for the senator to watch Biden take the podium in the Pepsi Center here last week, smiling, waving to the crowd, ready to deliver the largest political speech of his life, with the White House at stake?

“No, no, no. No, not at all,” Dodd said with a hearty chuckle. “I was always flattered to be considered, to the extent you’re considered — you know, it’s one of those things you never really know all the details about it. And I really enjoy my job.”

Indeed, in the Senate, Dodd is not small potatoes. The five-term senator is the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and is the number-two Democrat on the Foreign Relations and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees.

“The opportunity to effectuate the lives of a lot of people in many ways, I would argue, is greater in those capacities, as important as the job as the vice presidency is,” Dodd said.

Dodd also said he doesn’t have a strong interest in a Cabinet post within an Obama administration.

“I don’t think so, and I say that respectfully,” he said when asked whether he would want such a position. “If I were a first-term senator sitting way down on the bench … but, you know, I’m chairing major committees with major policies. On foreign policy, domestic issues, the major economic questions, I’m in a position you couldn’t duplicate.”

Dodd also said he would not seek the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee if the Democrats won the White House and Biden, the committee’s chair, became vice president. “I think I’d stay with the Banking Committee right now,” Dodd said. That move would open up the chairman position for Sen. John Kerry ’66 of Massachusetts.

Politically, Dodd is not at the strongest point in his career. Allegations this summer that he received preferential treatment on two mortgages from Countrywide Financial Corporation, which his committee regulates, may have contributed to his approval rating’s sinking to 51 percent in the most recent Quinnipiac poll, the lowest on record for the poll.

Still, Dodd ­— who plans to seek re-election in 2010, his spokesman, Bryan DeAngelis, said Tuesday — is not panicking. The senator forwent the publicity of a floor speech here last week and turned over his speaking slot at the convention to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee so as to allow senators facing impending election fights more of a chance to speak, according to a person close to the senator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity when discussing private conversations.

Yet it is hard to imagine Dodd’s week at the convention was not without at least a tinge of introspection, a pinch of “what if?” questioning.

“I certainly would have been flattered to be asked,” he said of the vice presidency. “Anyone who tells you they’d turn it down probably isn’t being completely honest.”

Contact Thomas Kaplan at thomas.kaplan@yale.edu 

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