Democratic presidential-nomination hopeful and Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd stressed adherence to the Constitution and argued that his experience in the Senate gives him a leadership edge in a town-hall meeting at Mount Mercy College on Thursday afternoon.
Dodd opened by relating the experiences of his father, former Sen. Thomas Dodd, who prosecuted Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, to a crowd of around 50. He used the story to evoke the familiar campaign theme of following the rule of law, a concept he charged that President Bush has undermined.
"Once you allow that erosional process to begin, it becomes easier and easier and easier for that erosion to take place," Dodd said.
Later, in a question-and-answer period, he assailed the Bush administration for the use of signing statements, which are declarations added to bills when signed by the president. Many have accused Bush of using the statements to circumvent or even outright ignore sections of the new laws.
"There'll be no signing statements in the Dodd administration," he said, raising his voice.
Connecticut's senior senator often speaks about overarching ideas and principles, especially the importance of governments operating within an established legal framework.
"He's the most cerebral of the group," said Craig Spear of Cedar Rapids, who attended the speech.
Spear is currently undecided, and he said that while he is more fiscally conservative than Dodd, and most Democrats, he is strongly considering him.
Despite acting as chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, a powerful post, Dodd has been somewhat overshadowed in Iowa by front-runners Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. In a recent Des Moines Register poll, he received 1 percent of the vote.
Recalling the Iowa caucuses' ability to launch second-tier candidates to the nomination, Dodd touted his experience of working across party lines in the Senate.
"You've not been overly impressed with celebrity or wealth; you've gotten beyond that in the past," he said.
Dodd has been recently critical of Obama's campaign for encouraging out-of-state students to return to Iowa on Jan. 3 in order to caucus.
Comparing out-of-state students to his staff members, who have lived in Iowa for more than a year, he said the caucuses should be reserved for Iowans, which doesn't include students paying out-of-state tuition.
"If you're from Hartford, Conn., and you're going to school at the University of Iowa, and you're paying out-of-state tuition, you're [unfairly] casting yourself as an Iowan," he said.
With the caucuses less than a month away, Dodd emphasized that Iowans have the rare opportunity to meet the candidates in person. After the early states, he said, the campaigns become more about television ads.
"You get to become surrogates," he said. "You get to do what no one else, or very few, get to do."
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