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Home-State Voters Want Dodd Back

While Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.) might be in single digits in national Democratic presidential surveys, he’s polling at 70 percent in his home state.

Unfortunately for Dodd, that’s the percentage of Connecticut voters who think he should drop out of the White House contest, according to a recent Quinnipiac University Poll.

In the middle of his fifth term in the Senate, Dodd has embarked on a bid for the presidency that more than one Nutmeg State voter has called “quixotic.” His long tenure in the Senate and his ambitions to run for national office have led some political observers to question whether he’d be interested in running for a sixth term in 2010.

“I think it’s bad news for Dodd that Connecticut voters want him to come home,” said Doug Schwartz, the director of the Quinnipiac Poll.

The poll surveyed 1,029 registered Connecticut voters Nov. 1-5 and had a margin of error of 3.1 points. Of those polled, 70 percent said Dodd should drop out of the White House race altogether and 55 percent said he was spending too much time on his presidential bid and not enough time as Senator.

Connecticut Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy said Dodd has been “sort of selfish” to run full time for the White House, including enrolling his children in school in Iowa and renting property there.

“The poll shows that the public is clearly frustrated and believes overwhelmingly that Sen. Dodd is not going to be president and he’s not going to be the nominee,” Healy said. “In just a more general sense, he’s a member of some important committees. He’s not even around to do what he was elected to do.”

The poll also showed Dodd with an approval rating of 55 percent, a number that is down 5 points from Quinnipiac’s May 2007 poll but not yet in the danger zone for an incumbent, according to Schwartz.

“First of all, I think he’s done an excellent job as United States Senator,” said former Connecticut Gov. and Sen. Lowell Weicker, who was a Republican in the Senate and an Independent as governor. “I think we all know there could be a fatigue factor in the approval rating.”

Weicker said more people are angry at incumbents than at a specific Senator or party.

“There’s no question in my mind that Dodd would win his Senate seat again,” he added.

The other Senator from Connecticut, Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID), was in a similar position in 2003. During his 2004 run for the White House, Lieberman scored even lower than Dodd: 52 percent of Connecticut voters surveyed by Quinnipiac in November 2003 approved of his job performance.

Dodd has not yet said whether he will seek re-election in 2010 and makes it clear that he’s focused on his bid for the White House.

“He’s fully committed to running for president,” said national campaign spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan. “We are focusing on electing Sen. Dodd to be the nominee of the party and the president of the United States.”

Flanagan said Connecticut voters are being asked to look at Dodd in a different light than in the past and pointed out that 55 percent is a “very healthy” approval rating for a U.S. Senator.

“A large majority of the people of Connecticut understand that Chris Dodd has been delivering results for them and are satisfied with his performance as Senator,” Flanagan added.

And change is rare in Connecticut politics, at least when it comes to statewide races. Lieberman has held his seat for four terms, while Dodd has had his seat even longer than that — since 1980.

Furthermore, other statewide offices such as attorney general and governor don’t have term limits.

One candidate who has benefited from that is Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D), first elected to his post in 1990. Some Connecticut political observers have said that Blumenthal might be interested in running for the Senate seat if it became open in 2010, though he also will eye the gubernatorial race.

But Blumenthal wouldn’t be the only Democrat looking at a Senate bid if Dodd moves on. Because open seats in the state are so rare, Democrats have what one operative called a “long bread line” waiting for an opportunity to run for that seat.

Democratic Reps. Rosa DeLauro and John Larson might enter an open-seat Senate race, although it’s debatable whether either would give up their House seats and influential positions now that their party is in the majority.

Others point to the 2006 Democratic Senate nominee Ned Lamont, who not only has run statewide already but also has the financial means to do so again. Other Nutmeg State Democrats, such as Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy and former state Democratic Party Chairman George Jepsen, also could run for the seat, but a Democratic source said they might prefer to run for governor and attorney general, respectively.

Republicans likely would have an uphill battle to turn that Senate seat red whether or not Dodd declines to run. Most Republicans supported Lieberman as an Independent in 2006 and Democrats took two House seats in the state last year as well.

Schwartz said that aside from the very popular Republican Gov. Jodi Rell, there’s “not a very deep bench on the Republican side for well-recognized statewide officials.”

Healy begged to differ, naming Republicans such as former Rep. Rob Simmons, current U.S. Attorney Kevin O’Connor, Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton as some who might consider running in 2010.

But if Dodd does not win the Democratic presidential nod and sticks around the Senate in 2010, there’s another question about whether he might be interested in a post within the Democratic leadership — perhaps even as Majority Leader if incumbent Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) decides to retire in 2010.

“The question Chris should answer now is should he become one of the central leaders in that Democratic Senate rather than his presidential campaign?” Weicker said. “I think that the Democratic voice in the senate right now … is a very weak voice and I think Chris would be a very strong voice in the role of Majority Leader.”