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Simmons Contemplating Senate Race

Mortgage Issues, Presidential Run Make Dodd Appear Vulnerable

Former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) is contemplating a challenge to Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) in 2010, as Republicans appear to be telegraphing that they plan to target the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs chairman for defeat.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) met with Simmons to discuss a potential bid a few weeks ago while the former Congressman was in town for the Republican National Committee winter meeting, according to a knowledgeable source. Simmons, however, has not yet made any commitments to the NRSC.

“Congressman Simmons would be a very strong candidate in this race, particularly when ethics and the economy will be two of the biggest issues in 2010,” NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said. “That said, it’s our understanding that he’s still examining his options as are other potential candidates.”

In a phone interview Monday afternoon, Simmons would not say if he was specifically interested in running for Senate, but said he was looking at various opportunities. The former lawmaker was serving as Connecticut’s first Business Advocate under Gov. Jodi Rell (R) until recently, when his department was eliminated.

“I am currently looking around for opportunities to be of service,” Simmons said. “As you know, I’ve got a fairly substantial background in public service and I’m currently just looking around, if you will, exploring possibilities to see what looks good.”

Although Simmons was coy about 2010, he touted his service as an aide to former Sens. John Chafee (R-R.I.) and Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) as proof of his ability to straddle the spectrum of the Republican Party. Simmons was also fast to criticize Dodd for not foreseeing the economic crisis as chairman of the Banking panel, as well as not disclosing the details of a well-publicized deal he got on a mortgage for his home.

“Sen. Dodd has disappointed a lot of his supporters up here in Connecticut with his activities over the last several years,” Simmons said. “He left the state, moved to Iowa, to pursue what turned out to be a frivolous attempt to run for president of the United States of America.”

Even though Connecticut has increasingly voted for Democrats in recent election cycles, Republicans believe Dodd’s failed 2008 presidential bid and public image tarnished by ethical problems has given them an opening. The NRSC — looking to play more offense than they have the past two election cycles — has already made Dodd a frequent target of news releases.

But the GOP has a shallow recruitment bench in the Nutmeg State, considering that as of this year the state does not have a single Republican House Member.

Simmons was one of two Connecticut Republicans who lost re-election in 2006, and a third lost re-election last year. Simmons was defeated by now-Rep. Joe Courtney (D) by 83 votes.

A mid-December survey from Quinnipiac University Polling Institute showed that only 44 percent of the survey’s respondents thought Dodd should be re-elected, while 47 percent said he didn’t deserve re-election.

“His numbers have been coming down. He’s been clearly hurt by the mortgage controversy,” said Doug Schwartz, the director of the Quinnipiac survey, referring to Dodd’s controversial Countrywide home mortgage.

Schwartz said Dodd’s poll numbers started to sink when he began his bid for president.

“We are a blue state, but for somebody like Dodd, he has been around for quite a while and he could be wearing out his welcome,” Schwartz said.

But both national and local Democrats scoff at the idea that Dodd could be vulnerable in 2010. Connecticut Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo defended Dodd and said she was not at all worried about his re-election prospects.

“I believe the last poll was low because people were upset with the economy and they were angry at the politicians in D.C.,” DiNardo said.

Once Dodd starts campaigning around the state this cycle, she said, his numbers will rebound. What’s more, DiNarado said that any of the potential GOP candidates — including Simmons — are not strong enough to defeat Dodd.

“I don’t think the Republicans have strong candidate to run against Chris Dodd,” she said. “And so I think of all their candidates, [Simmons] may be the best one, but I don’t think he would have a shot against Chris Dodd.”

Any potential Republican candidate would also have to compete with Dodd’s fundraising: After depleting his campaign account during his presidential bid, Dodd reported having a combined $1.1 million left in the bank for his 2010 campaign. As chairman of the Banking Committee, Dodd will likely have solid fundraising throughout this cycle.

Connecticut Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy, who used to work for Simmons, said no one has approached him yet with an intent to run.

“No one has directly expressed interest, although I think there are some people who are going to look at it,” Healy said.

In addition to Simmons, Greenwich businessman Tom Foley is also looking at running. Foley served as the ambassador to Ireland for the final years of the Bush administration.

Former U.S. Attorney Kevin O’Connor, a former top official at the Justice Department, could also be well-positioned to run. State Sen. Sam Caligiuri might also run for the seat.

“I’ve met with the NRSC myself, and they’ve been very interested for pretty obviously reasons,” Healy said. “Sen. Dodd’s story just isn’t selling in Connecticut right now.”

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