Storm center hanging over Chris Dodd

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) suffered repeated political blows this week, weakening his already tough reelection prospects, but Democrats are standing by their candidate as he faces the first big electoral challenge of his 29-year Senate career.

It’s been a rough week for the Capitol Hill veteran. For starters,


Dodd got his first Republican challenger of the 2010 election cycle as a new poll showed him in danger of losing the Senate seat he’s held since 1980.

But the biggest blow of all came in the form of the AIG bonus scandal. As bipartisan outrage over the $165 million bonus payout grew, the trail led to Dodd, the Senate Banking Committee chairman. Dodd initially fumbled his explanation about how the bonus loophole ended up in the stimulus bill but later admitted he had, in fact, been involved in the changes.

Though Dodd is still reeling from the past seven days, his five terms in the chamber and his clout as chairman appear to have averted an intra-party backlash.

Senate Democratic leaders and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) indicated Thursday that they are sticking by Dodd, while other members of the Senate expressed support for the increasingly embattled Banking Committee chairman.

“There is no better candidate to represent the people of Connecticut, and I have no question that he will continue to do so,” Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBottom line Biden's first 100 days is stylistic 'antithesis' of Trump The Memo: Washington's fake debate on 'bipartisanship' MORE (D-Nev.) said.

“The people of Connecticut know he’s been a leader on this issue,” DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz said, “and any attempt to make him responsible for what happened at AIG is an absurd political cheap shot that won’t ring true to anyone even remotely familiar with his strong record on this.”

Dodd also got a semi-boost Thursday when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner praised his “leadership role” on the stimulus. Geithner took some, but not all, responsibility for the bonus loophole, telling CNN that “Treasury staff were working with Sen. Dodd’s staff throughout this process.”

Speaking Thursday, Dodd dismissed talk that the DSCC wouldn’t wind up supporting him in his reelection bid, even as his problems have put a safe state in jeopardy.

“Not at all,” he said. “Quite the contrary. I’m the first horse out of the box here.”

The furor over the AIG bonuses and Dodd’s role in them couldn’t have come at a worse time for him. The past year has been a series of budding scandals for Connecticut’s longest-serving senator, who just two years ago fashioned himself a presidential contender.

He has seen his approval rating drop slowly since then, but the last two weeks have cast a completely new face on his 2010 race.

Last weekend, a week after a new poll showed Dodd trailing former Rep. Rob Simmons (R) by 1 percent, 43-42, Simmons entered the race, assuring Dodd would face a rare fight for his political life.

And AIG was effectively thrown on top of Dodd’s other controversies: the so-called VIP mortgages he received from Countrywide Financial and a more recent flap about a cottage in Ireland he bought with a friend who was an associate of a man for whom Dodd later sought a pardon.

“If you really do go deep into it, it’s quite possible that the senator would be exonerated,” Sacred Heart University Professor Gary Rose said of the AIG situation. “But what’s simplified in the minds of voters is that here’s a guy who got campaign money [from AIG], and he’s behind or involved in the amendment that has led to bonuses.”

Dodd blamed the kerfuffle on politics.

{mospagebreak}“There used to be a season for politics in America; it used to start after the World Series,” he said. “Obviously, the world has changed dramatically. We’re now in a permanent season.”

While being Banking Committee chairman has provided Dodd an opportunity for leadership, it has also provided Republicans with ammunition, including the more than $100,000 he received from AIG during the 2008 cycle.


When Dodd originally included the language on executive pay in the stimulus bill, he made a point to promote his efforts. Now, after the AIG backlash, he has had to backtrack and downplay his role.

Despite growing perceptions, Dodd’s colleagues are standing up for him. And the support isn’t limited to Democrats.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who reconciled with Dodd after Dodd actively campaigned for his 2006 opponent, said his Connecticut colleague is being punished for trying to do a good deed.

“Sen. Dodd got into this because he tried and did pass an amendment as part of the stimulus bill to limit the pay and bonuses of executives of any company receiving federal TARP taxpayer money,” Lieberman told reporters, referring to the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), one of the key negotiators along with Dodd over the bailout last year, said that the Democrat had “absolutely insisted” that government have “significant authority” to limit executive pay.

“That was a huge issue of negotiation during the original TARP,” Gregg said. “And Sen. Dodd led the effort to try to make sure that hard language was in there.”

Of course, not everyone has provided Dodd with such backup.

The author of an alternative amendment to Dodd’s, Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate Finance Committee to consider clean energy legislation this month Hillicon Valley: Global cybersecurity leaders say they feel unprepared for attack | Senate Commerce Committee advances Biden's FTC nominee Lina Khan | Senate panel approves bill that would invest billions in tech House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill MORE (D-Ore.), has accused the arrangement of being part of a “backroom deal” that, in the end, allowed the AIG bonuses to go through.

Dodd’s potential Republican opponents say the controversy reinforces what they’ve been seeing for years.

“Now it’s finger-pointing at the administration: They made him do it,” Simmons said increduously.

“Whatever happened to personal responsibility?”

State Sen. Sam Caligiuri (R), who is strongly leaning toward entering the race, said Dodd’s actions are those of a politician who has been in Washington too long.

“He can’t tell right from wrong anymore, in terms of what’s right for the American people,” Caligiuri said. “And we’re paying a huge price as a result of it.”

Dodd has reiterated that he is running for reelection, and DSCC Chairman Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDemocrats reintroduce legislation to ban 'ghost guns' Juan Williams: A breakthrough on immigration? Biden rebuffs Democrats, keeps refugee admissions at 15,000 MORE (N.J.) has said in the past that the committee wouldn’t have to deal with any more retirements.

If Dodd were to be forced out or opted for retirement, talk would likely turn to state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Reps. Rosa DeLauro and John Larson.

Blumenthal has indicated he might challenge Lieberman in 2012, but an opening in 2010 might prove more enticing.

Walter Alarkon and J. Taylor Rushing contributed to this article.