Tuesday, April 7, 2009

2010 US Senate Race: Connecticut

INCUMBENT: Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat
  • First elected in 1980
  • Defeated Jack Orchulli, 64-32, in 2004
  • DOB - 05/27/1944

2008 PRESIDENTIAL STATE RESULTS: Obama 61%, McCain 38%.

The Connecticut Senate race is, very surprisingly, shaping up to perhaps be the toughest race for Democrats in 2010. Republicans are still reeling in New England, however this is not a competitive race due to some sort of Republican resurgence but rather because of the incumbent Democrat’s incessant stumbling.

Senator Chris Dodd is seeking his sixth term, and is the son of former Senator Thomas Dodd (who, ironically, lost in 1970 as a result of perceived unethical behavior) and a former Presidential candidate. That’s where the problems began, moving his family to Iowa (literally, they bought a house) with a poorly defined reason for running left his constituents with the distinct impression that he had long left Connecticut behind. Added to this is the widely reported favorable mortgage rate from Countrywide Financial, and his high profile dealing with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in his capacity as Senate Bank Committee Chair, has put him in the precarious position of being at the forefront of his constituent’s anger over the financial crisis. Finally, his purported role in the AIG bonus fiasco has further made things difficult for Senator Dodd.

Republicans scored a nice recruit in Fmr. Congressman Rob Simmons (who was defeated in a razor close race in 2006 by Democrat Joe Courtney), who has political experience, ability to raise money, and name recognition. Simmons’s major liability, however, is his close ties to the Republican Brand and President Bush as well as his continued close ties to lobbyists which will make it difficult for him to make an effective case that Dodd is the unethical one in the race. GOP State Senator Sam Caligiuri has also declared his candidacy, and former Irish Ambassador Tom Foley is considering a run in the GOP primary, but Simmons starts the race as the clear frontrunner for the nomination.

Dodd has shown no indication he’s willing to retire and the DSCC is standing firm behind him; and his close personal friendship with party heavyweights like John Kerry (who sent out a fundraising appeal for Dodd recently) and Ted Kennedy make it unlikely Senate Democrats will force Dodd into retirement. Likewise, with his pedigree and legendary name, no serious opposition appears likely for Dodd in the primary. But if Dodd steps down, look for State AG Richard Blumenthal to seriously consider the race.

The most recent polling has Simmons with a double-digit lead over Dodd at this juncture (though the immediate aftermath of the AIG fiasco likely artificially deflated his numbers). As Senate Banking chair, Dodd has the ability to fundraise easily; however considering his current issues raising a ton of money from Wall Street and Banking interests could end up being a liability to Dodd’s image.

Dodd has a few more months to turn his numbers around before his political grave begins to be dug. Connecticut’s strong blue tilt makes Simmons’s campaign an uphill battle, but Dodd’s sorrowful approval ratings makes this a true toss-up and a must-watch race.

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