U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd’s news conference following his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and his return from the Iowa caucuses (Christine Stuart photos and video)

Lacking the celebrity and money needed to clinch one of the top four spots in the Iowa caucuses, U.S. Senator Chris Dodd was welcomed home Saturday afternoon by family, friends and party faithful, who gathered at his East Haddam home along the banks of the Connecticut River.

“I come home disappointed,” Mr. Dodd told his supporters from a podium set up in his backyard. “I’ve been through 8 elections, and let me tell you winning is a lot more fun than losing. But I’m glad I tried.”

Tired and a little hoarse from campaigning in Iowa where he garnered less than one percent of the vote in his presidential bid, Mr. Dodd said he’s going to take a break and spend some time with his family before getting back to politics. After he catches his breath, his job “is to see that we elect a Democrat to the White House,” he said.

Reluctant to endorse one the Democratic frontunners, saying “endorsements are overvalued,” he did have kind words for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He said he doesn’t personally know John Edwards or Bill Richardson and in the end “may decide not to endorse a candidate.”  But if he does, he said he won’t hesitate to announce it.

When asked if he would accept an offer to run as vice president or possibly accept a cabinet position, Mr. Dodd said “I’ve had my run. This is enough.” He said he thinks he has a better chance at influencing public policy through his position on Congressional committees. Mr. Dodd chairs the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and said Saturday that he is one seat away from chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Mr. Dodd also dismissed netroot rumors that he would challenge Nevada Senator Harry Reid for Senate Majority Leader. “Harry Reid is doing a tough job trying to keep all the frogs in the wheelbarrow,” Mr. Dodd said, explaining that he had his shot at the job back in 1994 when he lost by one vote to Tom Daschle.

What happened in Iowa?

Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz said “I think people in Iowa didn’t know Chris Dodd the way we do in the state of Connecticut.” She said Mr. Dodd hit his stride speaking about Constitutional issues, but by that point it was too late in the campaign to catch up.

In mid-December, Mr. Dodd’s campaign received more than 21,000 comments, signed up an estimated 25,000 new voters on its email list, and raised $200,000 in campaign contributions after his successful 11-hour filibuster of President Bush’s wiretap program that let big telecom companies off the hook for allowing the government to conduct warrantless wiretaps of their networks.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said “To be blunt he’s not a celebrity of screen or stage.” He said Mr. Dodd is a “thoughtful U.S. Senator, which is sort out of fashion.” While Dodd’s story is an American story, “it’s not the one that creates the breakthrough moment,” he said. Barack Obama’s story is also an American story, Blumenthal said, “but it’s a today story, whereas Dodd’s is a classic one.”

Mr. Dodd said the other thing his campaign had to contend with in Iowa was the increase in turnout. He said in one polling place they had 30 supporters, which was 15 more than they would have needed four years ago. He said four years ago, 100 people showed up at that polling place and 30 people would have been more than enough to walk away with a delegate, but this year more than 400 people showed up at that polling place.

Then there was the money. Mr. Dodd said his campaign coffers reached a total of about $13 million, whereas Barack Obama was able to spend $10 million in Iowa on television ads alone. For the three second-tier candidates, “It was always an uphill battle,” he said.

Mr. Dodd’s supporters like Peter Carozza, president of the International Association of Firefighters in Connecticut, said “we’re not happy with him withdrawing because we thought he was the best candidate for the job.” Carozza said he flew out to Iowa eight times to campaign for Dodd and is disappointed he was unable to continue his candidacy.

“Although Senator Dodd did not achieve the results in Iowa for which he had hoped, we all remain extremely proud of his tireless efforts to address the issues that are important to every citizen of Connecticut and of this great country,” Nancy DiNardo, Democratic State Central Chairwoman, said in an email inviting the party faithful to Dodd’s homecoming celebration at the Gelston House.

Many in Connecticut were happy to see their favorite son return home. According to a Nov. 8, 2007 Quinnipiac University poll, Connecticut voters said 70 to 21 percent that Dodd should drop out of the presidential race. In that same poll of 1,029 voters, 55 percent of voters said Dodd was spending too much time on the campaign trail and not enough time serving as Senator.

Mr. Dodd said he’s grateful to the people of Connecticut for letting him try to run for president.

It’s possible Mr. Dodd may receive some votes for president on Feb. 5 when Connecticut voters head to the polls. Bysiewicz said it’s too late to remove his name from the ballot, so if voters want to cast their vote for Dodd, technically they still can. It’s happened before, she said. In 2004 when Senator Joseph Lieberman withdrew his name from the presidential primary, he still received 5 percent of the vote in Connecticut.