At the bar at the Red Rock, the cafeteria at the Legislative Office Building, and while jogging through the New Haven Green Democrats are having private, candid conversations about a man they love and respect, Senator Chris Dodd. They’re talking about a subject they dare not speak of publicly: that he should not seek re-election. Those whispers though are growing louder, as one Democrat put it “the groans becoming more audible.”
Since February they have been wincing at polls that show the state’s de facto leader of the state Democratic party in danger of losing a seat he has held since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. They were hopeful in September when polls showed Dodd making slight progress but felt ill earlier this week when new polls came out painting a grim picture.
State Democrats love Chris Dodd, the man who has guided their party to success in 5 straight senate elections and has helped them control the congressional delegation for decades. He goes to their fundraisers, campaigns for them, and they return the loyalty. Many traveled to Iowa and New Hampshire to campaign for Dodd when he was running for president.
For them, Chris Dodd is family, and that’s the problem for 2010.
I’ve spoken to several Democrats who are very afraid Dodd will lose re-election next year and take the party down with him, namely costing them the governorship, something they last won in 1986. All spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, for fear they would taken out to the wood shed. One told me Dodd was like “the alcoholic in the family.” “We are all pretending nothing is wrong, but it is.” Some Democrats have gone public, like Pat Scully who said on Face the State that by spring if the numbers aren’t better, the party should turn to Attorney General Dick Blumenthal. Former party chair Ed Marcus, who admittedly has had issues with Dodd, echoed those sentiments earlier this year.
The next round of polls expected in January or February will be crucial for Dodd. If the numbers do not go up, I’m told Democrats may have an intervention where they sit him down and tell him ” maybe he shouldn’t run for re-election.” I’m told there are two camps among state Democrats: those who believe Dodd is in real political danger, and those fierce loyalists who scoff at the suggestion, retorting that this is a Democratic state and he will be re-elected. The polls are nonsense, they argue. Those close to Dodd are blindly loyal, and as one Democrat put it, “they’re also blind that they can’t see what’s going on.”
The latter group argues that Dodd is a fighter. I would agree, but not when it comes to elections. He got out of the only tough race he faced on the night it began. The Senator bowed out of the 2008 race for the White House the night of the Iowa caucuses. The first primary in his native New England was a week away, yet he still got out. He saw the writing on the wall. He is a realist.
The writing on the wall this week, and for most of 2009 shows Senator Dodd losing t0 just about every Republican opponent. Even against fellow Democrat Merrick Alpert he got only 55% in the recent QU poll. 45% of Democrats either don’t want to support him or aren’t yet sure if they do.
So how would Dodd get out gracefully? President Obama would offer him a cabinet position, or an ambassadorship. One key democratic operative in the state suggested Venezuela. That same Democrat told me Dodd wants to go out on top, not with an L next to his name on November 2.
There is time for Dodd to improve in the polls, but not much. One Democrat told me a replacement candidate would be at a disadvantage if he or she started any later than March.
There will be much discussion among Democrats over the holidays, and maybe some soul searching in East Haddam.
Look for January to be a big month for Campaign 2010.