CONCORD, N.H. — Sen. Barack Obama scored big in fundraising this week but the two happiest candidates may be New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, two second-tier Democratic presidential hopefuls who now see an opening since Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has not run away with the nomination.
As the two candidates with arguably the longest official resumes, Mr. Richardson, in his second term as New Mexico’s governor, and Mr. Dodd, in his fifth term as senator from Connecticut, say they can compete for the long haul. This week both spent time in New Hampshire, trying to persuade voters in the first-in-the-nation primary to choose deep experience over deep pockets.
“All I want is for you to keep your powder dry,” Mr. Richardson told several hundred voters at a town hall meeting at New England College in Henniker, N.H., on Wednesday. “Wait until you see all the candidates, wait until we have debates. … Don’t get swayed by rock-star status or polls or how much money you raised.”
Still, Mr. Richardson does owe his chances right now to the man who lays claim to rock-star status: Mr. Obama’s first-quarter fundraising receipts of more than $25 million, and his 100,000 donors, shook the Democratic field to the core.
“What that means is Hillary is not a sure thing, and as long as we know that, the Dodds and the Richardsons, all those guys, they have a shot,” said Arnie Arnesen, a talk-show host and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate in New Hampshire. “While money buys a lot, in New Hampshire and Iowa, it doesn’t buy anything.”
That’s exactly what Mr. Dodd is banking on.
“People in this state don’t want to be told by the national media the outcome of their primaries and caucuses 10 months out. In fact, they’ve had a history of trying to prove you wrong,” Mr. Dodd told reporters this week. “So I’ll take the news here on the ground, and I’ll take the receptions I’m getting in these states as better evidence of how I’m doing than whether or not I’ve got a bank account equal to some of the other candidates.”
Just minutes earlier he had told students at Concord High School that in any other election year, if he’d told a group of Democrats that he had 26 years in the Senate and five Senate elections under his belt, “you’d probably disqualify me on that basis alone.” But he said this year, post-September 11 and with Mr. Bush’s presidency winding down, it is different.
“I think this time around, people are saying after six years of on-the-job-training, experience matters,” he said.
In recent days he has tried to carve out a role in opposing the Bush administration’s recess appointment of Sam Fox to be ambassador to Belgium, yesterday sending a letter asking Congress’ investigative arm to look into whether the president’s action was legal.
A few hours later, with April snow falling outside, Mr. Richardson told the students and residents at Henniker that he will match his executive experience as governor, his time negotiating with world leaders as U.N. ambassador, and his experience as President Clinton’s energy secretary up against the rest of the field. And he downplayed his tenure as a congressman.
“I was in Congress,” he said. “They do nothing there. And I believe that governors do.”
Both men lag behind in the polls. A recent Zogby International survey found Mr. Richardson with 2 percent support and Mr. Dodd with less than 1 percent support among 504 Democratic primary voters. Mrs. Clinton led with 29 percent, followed by Mr. Obama and former Sen. John Edwards tied at 23 percent.
For Mr. Richardson, any movement is a good sign.
“I used to be at the margin of error. Now I’m up. I’m moving up,” he said.
Their path to the nomination is obvious, if not clear — run steady races and hope to capitalize as Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton stumble, or drag each other down. And both men know they have to score surprises in New Hampshire or Iowa and use the free press attention to slingshot into Super Tuesday on Feb. 5.
For now, they are operating far stingier campaigns than their big-dollar rivals.
Mr. Richardson reported raising $6 million in the first quarter of this year, and said he still had $5 million cash on hand.
Mr. Dodd trailed with $4 million raised, but will be able to report $9 million in receipts because he transferred the rest of the money from his Senate campaign fund, including $3.5 million he raised late last year.
The two men know they are rivals in that second tier. Asked by reporters about his fundraising, Mr. Dodd said he had $7.5 million cash on hand as of March 31, the end of the first quarter, adding, “that’s $2.5 million more than Richardson.”