Chris Dodd is YouTubing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama again, and this time it’s serious. Indeed, the Connecticut senator is leaving no space for the Democratic presidential frontrunners to continue dancing around the rapidly-developing debate over just how serious Democrats are about forcing President Bush to bring troops home from Iraq.

Take a look:

Dodd, the Connecticut senator who is a long-shot contender for the party’s nod in 2008, used a YouTube video earlier this month to highlight his support for Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold’s plan to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq within 120 days. That forced the frontrunners in the race, New York Senator Clinton and Illinois Senator Obama, who had been wavering on the issue, to join 27 other Democrats who voted to advance Feingold’s exit strategy.

Now, with the Senate poised to vote on a “blank check” supplemental spending bill that will give President Bush more money than he has asked for to maintain the occupation – with no timeline for withdrawal and only inconsequential “benchmarks” attached — Dodd is promising to oppose the measure.

Speaking in his new campaign video of his support for extracting troops from Iraq on a rapid timeline, Dodd argues: “We need clarity. We need bold decisions here. It’s time that we say that we are going to complete that redeployment process within the year. And I’m urging my colleagues and others who are running for president to join me in this move. We need to send a very clear message that the time to redeploy begins now and ends within the year. Not an open-ended check. Not a blank check. Not a half-policy when it comes to Iraq. It’s not easy to say that, but it’s important we do the right thing. I think the right thing is to vote against the supplemental.”

With the aggressive release of the video – Dodd aides were busy alerting political reporters to its release Wednesday evening – the senator is throwing down the gauntlet.

At a time when is telling its members, “This is a key test vote on whether your representative is serious about ending the war,” Dodd is making it the essential test for Clinton and Obama, both of whom refused on Wednesday to say how they would vote. (The fourth Democratic senator who is seeking the presidency, Foreign Relations Committee chair Joe Biden, will vote “yes” – confirming once more that he may be running for Secretary of State in a future Democratic administration but he is certainly not making a serious bid for the votes of the overwhelming majority of Democrats who want to end Bush’s war.)

This does not necessarily mean that, if Clinton and Obama agree to give Bush the money he needs to continue surging U.S. troops deeper into the quagmire, early primary and caucus voters will turn to the Connecticut senator as their champion. The most likely beneficiary is still former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, a top-tier candidate who says, “The so-called compromise under discussion in Congress that would give the president another blank check to continue his failed war is a serious mistake. Full funding is full funding, no matter what you call it. Every member of Congress who wants to support our troops and end the war should oppose this proposal.” And there is plenty of competition from other anti-war candidates, including Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who will be leading the charge against the measure in the House.

But Dodd is again playing a critical role in this campaign – that of the senior senator who is saying “no” to the president and forcing the hand of senators who might otherwise give Bush what he wants. No matter how the voting goes on the supplemental spending bill, grassroots Democrats who oppose the war ought to appreciate that it is Dodd who is leading in the Senate, not Clinton or Obama.


John Nichols’ new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders’ Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson hails it as a “nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe ‘heroic medicine’ that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to ‘reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'”