Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Remembering Dodd and Richardson

Remembering Dodd and Richardson

One of the drawbacks of horse race political coverage is that folks tend to forget the officials who retire, voluntarily or semi-, as soon as they announce. Don't people like, say, North Dakota's Byron Dorgan or New Hampshire's Judd Gregg seem like ancient history, even as they're voting in the lame duck Senate session?

Back in Caucus Season 2007, Iowans got to know a couple of the people who are stepping down way better than any Americans outside their home states.

With Bill Richardson, Johnson County central committee, 8/4/08With Chris Dodd, Hamburg Inn, 12/22/07

Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd would have been giants in a no prohibitive favorites caucus year like 1992 or 2004. But they were in the deadly Asterisk Zone in the polls in in the year of the rock stars -- Obama, Hillary, and the Baby Daddy Who Must Not Be Named.

(C'mon, admit it. How many of you Iowa Democrats have trophy photos of themselves with John Edwards hidden in some back drawer gathering dust? I'm 'fessing up, but I'll just as quickly add that I caucused for Obama.)

Dodd, who offered a farewell speech yesterday to the Senate where he served 30 years, literally moved to Iowa to campaign. Seriously. He enrolled his kids in the Des Moines public schools, and I took to writing "Sen. Chris Dodd (D-IA)". He ended it on Caucus Night itself, to no one's notice. No great concession speech, just a note on the crawl below Obama or Huckabee. After the results got number-crunched, we saw that Dodd had earned one county convention delegate in the whole state.

The Dodd campaign tried the direct approach. Jefferson-Jackson day, Des Moines, 11/10/07.
The high point of the Dodd campaign: Jefferson-Jackson 2007.

Richardson stumbled along another week to New Hampshire. His real Iowa support was somewhere in the 10 percent range, just below viability, I remember that dynamic of the night of January 3 all too well, as I was chairing my caucus. The little-stated reality of the Iowa Caucuses is that, after all the fun and excitement of the cattle call every-candidate events and the invasion of the national media and the personal phone calls from US Senators and the chummy-chummy invitation only "clutch" events, the actual moment of Caucus Night is crowded and miserable.

I live in an Iowa City precinct near, but not part of, campus, and Hillary Clinton was barely at viability on the first go-round. Poor Chris Dodd's five bodies quickly dispersed, and we settled into a stand-off. After everyone realigned, Obama had to hang onto all his people to claim a fourth delegate out of my precinct's seven. Edwards was barely hanging onto two and Clinton was barely at viability.

Bill Richardson was five people short of viability and sticking together -- but to gain that delegate, someone else would have to give up a delegate. And even if the Richardson crew had all joined one group, it wouldn't have changed that 4-2-1 split. They had nothing to offer, no way to gain, and ran out of time. Similar scenes must have been repeated across the state.

So what happened after?

Chris Dodd's too-cozy relationship with the banking industry in the post-TARP context made him home state toxic even in still-blue Connecticut. Discretion was the greater part of Dodd's valor; rather than fight a losing fight he stood down. It was a sad way to end a 36 year congressional career; Dodd was truly courageous in the warrantless wiretap fight of 2007. But he took one for the team and it was the right call. The Dems not only held his seat and all six Connecticut House seats this year, we gained the governorship for the first time in two decades.

Bill Richardson also took one for the team and got screwed out of the Obama cabinet when spurious financial and ethical charges popped up after he was nominated for Secretary of Commerce. Rather than fight it out and distract the still-new administration, he withdrew his name, once again proving Nixon's old adage that the charge appears on Page One and the retraction is buried in the back section.

Richardson's considerable abilities are now denied to the people of New Mexico by term limits. He saw his lieutenant governor, who oh so briefly was governor-to-be during that cabinet nomination, lose her race. But Richardson, as Iowans know, is too smart and experienced to stay on the sidelines for long. With the spurious ethics and financial charges now cleared, look for his name to pop up in any Cabinet level speculation, or perhaps as a candidate yet again. New Mexico Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman is reportedly waffling on a 2012 re-election bid. Richardson, who was long seen as a senator in waiting during his House and cabinet career, was urged to drop his presidential bid during 2007 and instead challenge Republican Senator Pete Domenici. But then Domenici retired (under some duress) and Tom Udall took over the seat for the Dems.

As for Dodd, his caucus bid was a valedictory, his last campaign. Both Richardson and Dodd have been mentioned for the cushy lobbying gig as chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America.

But in a piece predicting the paths of the 13 departing senators, Timothy Carney of the Washington Examiner writes: "(Dodd) is one guy who might actually move back home." Dodd became a father at a relatively late age. As he used to joke on the campaign trail, he got mail from both the AARP and diaper services. He'll watch his daughters grow up and write some books, and in the long run his image will recover from the late-term tarnish.

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