Conn. senator tests presidential waters

HAMPTON -- Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd said he may be the person the American public is looking for to run for president, but he will let the people decide whether he should.

Dodd, 62, is gauging whether to make a run for president in 2008 and is on his second trip to New Hampshire in two months, holding a town hall-style discussion at Fisher Scientific International on Wednesday. He fielded questions from approximately 80 employees for an hour before heading to a campaign luncheon for Carol Shea-Porter in Manchester.

In recent years, Dodd, a Democrat, said the country has been attracted to candidates who are perceived as "a blank sheet" with no affiliations, but that attitude may have changed.

"I think the country may be interested, this time around, to actually have somebody who's had some experience," he said. "I think having someone who's done things like this, instead of just talking about it, may be appealing. If people have a positive response to this, I'll jump in."

Dodd, the senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was asked in the opening question about the situation in North Korea.

Sanctions must be imposed in order to force an end to any nuclear tests, he said, adding that sanctions can be an effective tool with the backing of enough countries.

"It is a rogue regime, obviously, and a leader who is unstable, to put it mildly, so it will be critically important to have a sense of solidarity around them," said Dodd. "I hope that's what we're going to do."

Dodd said it was a mistake to not engage North Korean government in discussions about their nuclear capabilities long ago. The lack of conversation has become a trend under President Bush, he said.

"There's been an attitude in this administration that diplomacy and negotiating are a sign of weakness," he said. "I think nothing could be further form the truth."

On the issue of the war in Iraq, Dodd said regardless of whether the United States decides to pull troops out of Iraq, the violence that has ensued has not made the country safer. Intelligence reports state the U.S. military's presence in Iraq has only exacerbated sectarian violence, he said, and it is not improving. At some point, Iraq must be left to the Iraqis.

"I don't care how many troops you put on the ground, they have to decide if they want a country or not," he said. "We've given the Iraqis a tremendous opportunity. We've lost 2,700 lives, 20,000 have been injured and 300 billion dollars of your money (has been spent), and they're tearing each other apart."

Dodd said his top domestic issue is education reform. While significant federal investments have been made to improve places of higher education, he said not enough has been done to improve elementary and secondary schools. There must be a concentrated effort to improve education from the onset of Americans' academic careers, he said.

Dodd also said he does not believe the New Hampshire primary will be as important as it once was because it is followed immediately by four others, where there was once more lag time in between.