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Christopher Dodd: a worldview shaped by his father and fatherhood.

The five-term Connecticut senator is a strong Roman Catholic who showed an early commitment to social justice.

(Page 3 of 3)

A confident Catholic

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Dodd views himself as a serious and committed Roman Catholic. He calls the church his "spiritual home." But in his 30-plus years in public service, he has never "worn his faith on his sleeve," according to Howard Reiter, a political scientist at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. Dodd is comfortable with the fact that his wife, Ms. Clegg, is a Mormon.

Last spring, at a round table on faith in public life at Boston College, Dodd talked extensively about how his faith "strongly informs" and "guides" his decisionmaking. It taught him "to promote the common good, social justice, and to do everything possible to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable," he says.

Yet he believes strongly in the separation of church and state – but says it shouldn't be a solid, impermeable wall. He describes it as a window through which each side can watch and stay informed about the other.

"It's not a window that you can open, but in your public decisions, there's got to be some reflection [of religious beliefs]. Decisions have to be at least informed by them," he says during an interview. "But if you start getting overly defined by your religious views, then I think you've crossed over the wall."

Dodd favors abortion rights, a stance that has at times made him feel isolated because it puts him at odds with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Yet he's adamant that the difference in opinion will not affect his belief in God.

"I finally had to say, 'Was this my faith or not?' " he says. "If I was going to be driven out of my faith because some priest or monsignor or bishop was issuing press releases about me, then how deep was my faith then? So I got over that problem a long time ago."

Dodd also points, half-jokingly, to "divine intervention, of sorts" for his first committee assignments in the Senate. The Democrat was elected during a Republican landslide, and as a junior member of a minority party, he was given no choices.

"I was told I could sit on the Banking Committee. There was a seat on the Foreign Relations Committee and a seat on the Health, Education, and Labor Committee, and that was it," he says. And yet, "those committee assignments gave me a chance to be involved in questions that were tremendously important."

Dodd started the Senate's first Children's Caucus and fought for seven years for the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act. As a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, he points out that "I've been involved in every major foreign-policy" debate since 1980. And as chairman of the Banking Committee, he's been instrumental in passing legislation to help deal with the subprime mortgage crisis.

Professor Reiter calls Dodd a liberal, but also a "pragmatic" politician. "There's a middle-of-the-road stripe that's not always evident from his rhetoric," he says.

On the Hill, Dodd is known as an affable colleague who's willing to work with the opposition to get things done. As he travels through Iowa, he frequently cites that ability to work with others – and his long political experience – as reasons that he'd make a good president.

"People look to Iowans because you've always done this more deliberately. You haven't been overly impressed by money or celebrity," he tells a dinner-time crowd in Pella, Iowa. "You've sent forth candidates who were not the first choice coming in, but were the candidates who ought to lead because of what they brought to their candidacy and the kind of hope they brought to the country. So I'm asking you for your vote: I need your help here."