Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd won't seek reelection, will retire at end of term

Democratic Senators Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota won't seek re-election this fall, party officials say, bringing to four the number of open Senate seats Democrats must defend to protect their majority.
By Chris Cillizza
Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Embattled Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) has scheduled a news conference for Wednesday at which he is expected to announce he will not seek reelection, sources familiar with his plans said Tuesday night.

Word of Dodd's retirement plans comes after months of speculation about his political future, his faltering poll numbers and a growing sense among the Democratic establishment that he could not win a sixth term in the Senate. The news also came on the same day Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) announced he would not seek reelection.

Once among the safest of incumbents, Dodd's political star fell over a two-year period, during which he moved his family to Iowa to pursue the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination and was linked to a VIP mortgage loan program overseen by a controversial Wall Street financier. He also drew harsh questions about his oversight of Wall Street, as chair of the Senate Banking Committee, in the years when the nation's financial system was heading toward near collapse.

Dodd's poll numbers plummeted last spring before rebounding somewhat over the summer. But another dive in the polls late last year led to widespread concern that Dodd needed to vacate the seat for Democrats to have a chance at retaining it in the 2010 elections.

Dodd's troubles were politically ironic, coming at a time when his power on Capitol Hill had reached a height that most legislators only dream of. In addition to the banking committee, he also held pivotal posts on the health and foreign relations committees.

Over the past 18 months, he has been the primary author or co-author of legislation rewriting housing mortgage rules; the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street; key portions of the $787 billion stimulus package; a consumer protection bill overseeing the credit card industry; and the nearly $900 billion health-care legislation that has passed the Senate and is in final negotiations with the House now.

With each major piece of legislation Dodd ushered into law, the senator also endured criticism that he did not anticipate. The mortgage bill came in mid-2008, which some said was delayed because of Dodd's presidential aspirations, and the financial bailout became one of the most unpopular pieces of legislation passed in recent memory. His work on the stimulus bill, approved last February, was an attempt to rein in executive compensation at firms that had been bailed out but instead led to sharp criticism when executives at AIG, the largest recipient of taxpayer dollars, still received seven-figure bonuses shortly thereafter.

Without Dodd on the ballot, Republicans' chances of taking over a seat in solid-blue Connecticut are considerably diminished.

Richard Blumenthal (D), who has served as state attorney general since 1990, is widely expected to declare his candidacy for the seat. The most popular politician in the state, Blumenthal has long coveted a Senate seat, and he had already signaled that he would run for the Democratic nomination against Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I) in 2012.

Former Rep. Rob Simmons and businesswoman Linda McMahon are battling for the Republican nomination, but either would start as an underdog in a general-election match-up with Blumenthal.

Dodd, 65, was elected to the Senate in 1980, after three terms in the House, following the path blazed by his father, Thomas. By the early 1990s, Chris Dodd had set his sights on Senate leadership.

He ran for Democratic leader in the wake of the 1994 elections, but he lost in a close race to Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.). President Bill Clinton selected Dodd to chair the Democratic National Committee, overseeing Clinton's reelection as president in 1996, but the DNC's fundraising practices during the 1996 campaign landed him in some political hot water.

After Daschle was voted out of office in 2004, Dodd considered jumping into the race to succeed him, but he quickly stepped aside when he realized Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) had overwhelming support to claim the post.

Instead, Dodd began laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign in 2008. Always a long shot in a field filled with better-known and better-financed candidates, he moved his family to Iowa in fall 2007 in hopes of generating some excitement for his bid. But the move backfired in Connecticut, where voters bristled.

The next year, it was reported that Dodd had received special treatment in his acquisition of a mortgage loan from Countrywide Financial, through a program that labeled him and others as friends of Countrywide chief executive Angelo Mozilo. Dodd insisted he was unaware of his inclusion in the program, and he was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Senate Ethics Committee, but the political damage was done.

Staff writers Paul Kane and Dan Balz contributed to this report.

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