With each day Senator Chris Dodd’s hold on the Senate seat he has held for almost 30 years grows more tenuous. As the Chair of the Senate Banking committee he deserves a share of of the blame for the economic mess we are in now, and on top of that there are the recent scandals in which he has been involved.
Nine moths ago it was disclosed that the Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee Received TWO VIP Loans from Sub-Prime Lender Countrywide Inc. The Loans were at favorable interest rates.
Then in February we learned of a new “funky” friendship in the life of the Connecticut Senator. At the end of a the Clinton presidency secured a presidential pardon for Edward R. Downe, convicted of tax and securities fraud eight years before. No one mentioned at the time that Downe and Dodd were partners in a real estate deal, or that a different partner of Downe’s William “Bucky” Kessinger, had was involved in another land deal with Dodd. Of course Dodd hadn’t revealed that at the time. I guess he didn’t have to, since the true ownership wasn’t on the deed.
And don’t forget that the Senator was publicly caught in a lie about adding a provision about protecting AIG bonus’ into the stimulus bill.
Right now Chris Dodd’s approval rating in Connecticut is lower than that of George Bush’s was in Iran. But he is getting help. The Democratic Party establishment in Washington DC, is doing its best to protect the scandal-plagued Senator. They even have an interesting sell, “He’s a Crook but he is an insider.”
By: Alexander Burns
With Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) facing an uphill battle to win reelection next year after a series of Washington scandals battered his popularity back home, President Obama and other national Democrats are sparing no effort to help him.
Despite the scandals which left his ethics called into question, the three-decade Senate veteran is not trying to shake his Beltway image. Instead, Dodd is working furiously to show the impact of his long service by racking up big legislative accomplishments – including, potentially, a health care reform bill – before the midterm elections. And some of the national Democratic Party’s biggest names are coming in to back him up.
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) has cut a television commercial for him. Connecticut’s independent junior senator, Joe Lieberman, penned a column in the Hartford Courant calling Dodd “an agent of productive change.” The White House has honored him at four bill signings and President Obama even sent an email to 100,000 Democrats in Dodd’s home state praising him for his “outstanding work on behalf of families in Connecticut and across the country.”
This offensive hasn’t yet revived Dodd’s flagging poll numbers, though there’s been some improvement. But it has given the longtime incumbent an argument for reelection that Connecticut voters just might be willing to consider: Chris Dodd may be a Washington insider, but he’s their Washington insider.
“I think most people know Chris at this point, and know how they feel about him, not to be particularly moved one way or another by the president’s support,” said state Rep. Steve Fontana, who serves as vice chair of the Connecticut Democratic Party.
But, he said, Dodd’s intimate familiarity with Washington is one of the senator’s strongest assets: “You’ve got to believe that he’s got the ability to get the ear of very powerful people if he needs it, for something we need in the state.”
Whether that’s a health-care bill, infrastructure spending or just a visit from the president, Democrats are talking up Dodd’s ability to draw federal attention to his state.
“The senator has tremendous political allies to call on,” said Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, a Democrat mulling a run for governor next year. “Let me put it this way: I want to be leading the ticket that the senator is on next year, and I want Barack Obama to visit Connecticut 12 or 13 times.”
The key to Dodd’s reelection strategy is to not just to showcase his D.C. influence, but to persuade voters that it has positive consequences for their own lives, said a consultant affiliated with Dodd’s campaign.
“The fact that he’s in the middle of everything important that’s going on in Washington right now, that’s a huge opportunity for us,” said the Democratic operative. “Then, you’ve got to draw the nexus between the historic achievement and what it does for families.”
There’s a certain irony in Dodd’s decision to leverage his D.C. heft in order to win back a deeply skeptical Connecticut electorate. Indeed, Dodd starts his reelection campaign as something of an underdog due to several controversies that have led voters to wonder whether the senator is really a fighter for his state, or just an out-of-touch pol who has spent too much time playing the Washington influence game.
During the summer of 2008, Dodd was among the legislators tied to former Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo’s sweetheart mortgage program for politicians. When the financial crisis struck, Dodd was involved in crafting an unpopular measure that allowed insurance giant AIG to pay out executive bonuses while receiving huge amounts of taxpayer support through the Troubled Assets Relief Program. Later, questions arose about the reported value of a cottage Dodd purchased in Ireland.
Not helping matters are memories of Dodd’s futile campaign last year for his party’s presidential nomination, as the senator relocated his family to Iowa for months before dropping out after a poor showing in the state’s primary, the first of the Democratic contest.
By the beginning of March, a Quinnipiac poll showed the senator – who five years ago won reelection by a 24-points margin – losing a matchup with former Republican Congressman Rob Simmons by one percentage point. Just a few weeks later, the same survey placed Dodd 16 points back, winning only 34 percent of respondents.
Sensing opportunity, a growing field of Republicans has assembled to take on Dodd, including not only Simmons, but also state Sen. Sam Caligiuri and former Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley. Libertarian-leaning investment banker Peter Schiff may join the race as well and Connecticut politicos say the field could grow even further.
And while the gap between Dodd and his best-known rival has closed – the latest Quinnipiac survey showed Simmons leading by five points – Republicans are skeptical that Beltway muscle can bring Dodd back into the lead.
“If this race is about change, and I think it’s ultimately about change, bringing in establishment figures.is not going to sway votes,” Caligiuri said. “People around Connecticut understand that Chris Dodd took our vote for granted a long time ago and stopped doing his job for us, and he’s paying a price today.”
Simmons campaign manager Jim Barnett agreed, arguing that the aid of the national party wouldn’t help a candidate viewed as overly cozy with the D.C. set.
“People are already convinced that Chris Dodd is beyond knee-deep in inside-the-Beltway sludge,” Barnett said. “Pulling out every Washington Democrat to reverse the case isn’t going to solve the problem.”
One Republican official put it most directly: “No one is surprised by the fact that they’re trying to help him, but at the end of the day, this election will be a referendum on Chris Dodd.”
It’s not only Republicans who think the inside game has its limits. Some Connecticut Democrats are similarly skeptical about the value of high-profile endorsements. More urgent than that, they say, is a level of local attention that’s slipped during Dodd’s term in office.
“The reality of service in Washington means you can’t be at the Rotary meeting on Wednesday,” said Malloy. “I’ve been at a number of meetings where he’s reached out to municipal leaders. He’s coming to a Chamber of Commerce meeting.This is a classic wake-up call, delivered just in time and not too late.”
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, who was his party’s nominee for governor in 2006, said he hoped Dodd would focus on reconnecting with voters personally, more than fighting an air war with help from Washington.
“I think the Kennedy-Obama stuff is nice, but I don’t think it makes much of a difference. Most people know Dodd pretty well around here,” DeStefano said, suggesting that Dodd should work on answering voters’ questions about his ethical problems. “Chris, you know, needs to talk about this stuff when he goes around, to the extent people have concerns.”
To the extent that Dodd’s Washington stature can help him, DeStefano said, it’ll be through helping the senator score new accomplishments just in time for 2010.
“The more valuable thing is to stay visible and working on health care, which he’s going to get the opportunity to do, and on financial reform,” he said.
Dodd’s campaign hopes the senator will be able to bank a few more key accomplishments before voters head to the polls next year. The push for health care reform, in particular, could provide an opportunity for Dodd to improve his standing.
Even conceding that the debate over health care will be contentious, the operative close to Dodd’s campaign expects if a bill ultimately passes, “what people will get, without a doubt, is that the ship’s been broken for a long time and no one’s been able to fix it, and Chris Dodd was in the middle of fixing it.”
That was the message of the ad Kennedy cut for his friend, featuring the Massachusetts legislator declaring: “Quality health care as a fundamental right for all Americans has been the cause of my life, and Chris Dodd has been my closest ally in this fight.”
“The best way to win a campaign is to do your job,” said Colleen Flanagan, communications director for the Connecticut Democratic Party. “At the end of the day, people know he’s the guy who can get things done.”
But, Republicans say, like everything else about Dodd’s inside-man campaign, there’s a risk in his health care push as well.
“I think he’s got a lot of skin in the game if it fails,” Barnett said. “His entire rationale for his candidacy at this point is, you may not be able to trust me, but I’m effective in Washington.”