HARTFORD - The election is still more than 18 months away, but US Senator Chris Dodd is barnstorming Connecticut this week like an incumbent in trouble. Voters who have supported him for 29 years are showing anger over his personal finances and for legislation that allowed federal bailout money to be used for executive bonuses.
The political perils for Dodd, who is being outpolled by each of three little-known Republicans, have grown so acute that President Obama weighed in Thursday with a strong endorsement and a pledge of personal support.
“I can’t say it any clearer: I will be helping Chris Dodd because he deserves the help,” Obama told the Globe Thursday in a phone interview from Air Force One, as he flew to Mexico on a diplomatic trip.
“Chris is going through a rough patch,” Obama said. “He just has an extraordinary record of accomplishment, and I think the people in Connecticut will come to recognize that. … He always has his constituencies at heart, and he’s somebody I’m going to be relying on and working very closely with to shepherd through the types of regulatory reforms we need.”
The five-term Democrat has been beset by 10 months of damaging stories and fumbling responses to questions about mortgages he received from Countrywide Financial, a company at the heart of the nation’s subprime mortgage meltdown. More recently, he has taken flak for his role in crafting legislation that allowed $165 million in federal bailout money to be used for bonuses for executives of AIG, the troubled insurance giant now owned by the American taxpayer.
Dodd said last month that he had no idea that AIG bonuses would result from what he considered technical language he inserted at the request of the Obama administration, which feared litigation involving contractual obligations. Combined with public anxiety about the economy and mortgages, it has created a toxic environment for Dodd.
A Quinnipiac University poll released April 2 showed Dodd with a disapproval rating that has shot to 58 percent. The poll showed him trailing three potential Republican challengers, including former US representative Rob Simmons by 16 points.
“Certainly you’d like to have better poll numbers, but I also know that polls aren’t terribly significant at this juncture,” Dodd told reporters this week before attending a roundtable discussion in Bridgeport with Shaun Donovan, Obama’s secretary of housing and urban development.
“I didn’t get elected to get reelected,” Dodd said. “I got elected to do a job, and I’m doing my job as best I can every single day to help people get back on their feet again.”
But in a state that Obama carried by 22 points last year, his slump makes Dodd the most vulnerable Senate incumbent heading into the 2010 election cycle by most accounts.
“The fact that all three of these Republicans, none of them well known, are beating Dodd really has to worry him,” said Douglas Schwartz, the Quinnipiac polling director, who has done surveys about Dodd since 1994.