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Anger at Wall Street May Affect Conn. Democratic Stalwart Chris Dodd

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The Washington Post's Keith Richburg spoke with washingtonpost.com's Sarah Lovenheim about challenges facing Sen. Chris Dodd as he runs for re-election. Video by Sarah Lovenheim/washingtonpost.com

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By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 22, 2009

WILTON, Conn., March 21 -- For his nearly three decades in the Senate, Christopher J. Dodd has been a towering figure in tiny Connecticut, untouchable by political opponents in his four reelection races and a prodigious fundraiser thanks to his strong ties to the state's huge financial services sector.

But with banks, insurance companies and investment firms now held in widespread contempt, Dodd's political fortunes have also taken a hit. For the first time since he was elected to the Senate in 1980, he could face a serious challenge. And some of Dodd's longtime supporters are saying they will not vote for him again.

"I think his days are numbered," said Linda Walker, a retired nurse from Ridgefield. "He doesn't have the character I thought he had. That's where term limits come in."

Speaking of all long-serving politicians, Walker said, "They become so disconnected from where they're from."

"I'd rather he not run and save himself the embarrassment of losing," said Andrea Beebe, a teacher who also lives in Ridgefield. "You know, he was up to his eyeballs. He's had his hands in the mud pile for four or five years."

And these are Dodd's onetime supporters.

The most immediate issue for Dodd is the $165 million -- possibly more -- in bonus payments to employees of insurance giant American International Group. Many top AIG executives live in Connecticut, specifically in prosperous Fairfield County, one of the wealthiest in the nation. And the AIG Financial Products division, which is largely blamed for the country's financial meltdown because of its dealings in toxic mortgage-backed securities, is based here in the town of Wilton and was the target of a small but noisy protest rally Saturday.

Dodd, 64, is chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, and Wednesday night, he said his staff removed a provision from the recently enacted economic stimulus bill that would have blocked AIG from paying those bonuses. Dodd said he was acting at the request of Treasury Department officials, who feared the provision would prompt legal challenges. But earlier in the week, Dodd had said he did not know how the provision got removed from the bill.

That shift in position has only underscored for many Dodd's close relationship with AIG. The company's employees and political funds have contributed $300,000 to Dodd over the past decade, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Dodd, who was traveling in the state this weekend after a tumultuous week in Washington, has remained defiant and tried to limit the damage. He was quoted in an Associated Press story from an event in Enfield, Conn., on Friday saying, "I'm going to do my job. Politics will take care of itself, one way or the other, in the final analysis. And I'll either once again earn the respect and confidence of the people of this state, or I won't."

Dodd is also under a Senate ethics investigation involving two mortgages he received from Countrywide Financial for his homes in the District and Connecticut. Dodd in 2003 was enrolled in a Countrywide VIP program that gave him preferential treatment for those loans. Countrywide, once the country's largest mortgage lender, was sold last year to Bank of America as its subprime mortgage portfolio began to collapse.

On top of all that, this state's pride and sensibilities were hurt when Dodd last year made his quixotic run for president, dramatically uprooting his family and moving to Iowa before that state's Democratic caucuses.


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