Inside Report: Dodd for President?

Robert Novak

12/31/2001 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut has advised friends that he is considering a run for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. He has indicated he will decide soon, though not necessarily reveal his choice immediately. The 57-year-old Dodd has good national connections among Democrats. He served as the party's general chairman for two years after Sen. Tom Daschle defeated him by a one-vote margin for Senate Democratic leader following the 1994 elections. Two factors complicate his presidential ambitions. Dodd is up for re-election to a fifth Senate term in 2004. His junior colleague from Connecticut, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, is better known nationally after being the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000 and is clearly interested in the presidency. WASHINGTON POWER STRUGGLE A shouting argument erupted shortly before Christmas when lawyers for the Justice Department and the House Government Reform Committee unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate congressional investigators' demands for government documents. President Bush has followed his predecessor, President Bill Clinton, by invoking executive privilege in rejecting the committee's subpoenas. Chairman Dan Burton renewed his request for internal Justice Department recommendations for an independent counsel probe of Clinton-Gore campaign financing that had been spurned by then Attorney General Janet Reno. Burton also has subpoenaed information about alleged criminal activity by FBI informants. Burton and Attorney General John Ashcroft share conservative ideology. But in the heated talks, Ashcroft's lawyers claimed that responding to the House subpoenas would set a dangerous precedent in revealing confidential advice within the executive branch. NO SPECIAL SESSION Prominent House Republicans were disappointed that President Bush did not call Congress back into session immediately after New Year's Day to consider economic stimulus legislation. They wanted to confront Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle with a Bush-backed bill that would pass the Senate if permitted to come to a vote. However, Bush advisers welcome the administration having the media stage to itself until Congress reconvenes Jan. 23. Nor is the president inclined to play confrontational games with the principal Democrat in Congress. A footnote: Several Senate Democratic staffers have grumbled about Daschle letting the 2001 session drag on through Dec. 20 without accomplishing much in the closing weeks. Although they infinitely prefer Daschle as majority leader to his Republican predecessor, Sen. Trent Lott, these aides concede Lott would have managed an earlier adjournment. DAKOTA BIG MONEY Next year's South Dakota Senate race, between Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson and Rep. John Thune, is triggering what may be the country's fiercest 2002 fund-raising competition in a state whose population ranks 46th out of 50. The money competition results from the Democrats taking control of the Senate when Sen. James Jeffords left the Republican Party on May 24. Johnson became chairman of the Financial Institutions subcommittee, gaining him access to campaign contributions normally not possible for a first-term liberal Democrat from a thinly populated Great Plains state. Johnson's newfound money has panicked the national Republican establishment, which fears that Thune could be outspent after President Bush talked him out of a safe race for governor of South Dakota. The period between Christmas and New Year's has seen frantic GOP fund-raising in Washington to counter Johnson by quickly raising $1 million for Thune. GOP'S TARGET Democratic Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia, a triple-amputee Vietnam veteran considered a heavy favorite for re-election, has been put on the GOP's list of top 2002 targets. Private Republican polls show Cleland, a four-time statewide winner in Georgia, running only seven percentage points ahead of Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss, making his first statewide race. Cleland may suffer from his party line Democratic-voting record on gun control, abortion and labor. Cleland now ranks with Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Jean Carnahan of Missouri and Paul Wellstone of Minnesota as the most endangered Democratic senators. The most vulnerable Republican senators are Bob Smith of New Hampshire, Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas and James Inhofe of Oklahoma.