How Will Connecticut Fare Without Dodd?
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
In Connecticut, Democrats expressed sadness last week when Senator Christopher Dodd announced that he would not seek reelection. That was the personal reaction. But politically, there was a sense of relief. Dodd is Connecticut's longest-serving senator ever. But for nearly a year, he has had horrible polling numbers.
From our member station WNPR, Diane Orson reports on Connecticut's new and fluid political landscape.
DIANE ORSON: Standing with friends and family in front of his home near the Connecticut River, it was a somber Senator Chris Dodd who last week announced he would not seek a sixth term in the Senate.
Senator CHRISTOPHER DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): I have been a Connecticut senator for 30 years. I'm very proud of the job I've done and the results delivered. But none of us is irreplaceable. None of us are indispensible. And those who think otherwise are dangerous.
ORSON: Democrats had been pessimistic about Dodd's chances of winning reelection. Polls showed him in big trouble against either Republican opponent. But within hours after his announcement, their gloom turned to joy as Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced he would throw his hat into the ring.
Mr. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (Attorney General, Connecticut): Today is really Chris Dodd's day. I'm also here to say that I intend to be a candidate for the United States Senate.
(Soundbite of cheering and applause)
ORSON: Blumenthal has been a state attorney general since 1990 and is arguably Connecticut's most popular elected official. An activist for consumer protection, he's led major lawsuits, including a fight against the tobacco industry that resulted in a multibillion-dollar settlement.
Mr. BLUMENTHAL: What's really very compatible is the roles that I see for attorney general, which is a very activist, aggressive fighter for the people, and the role that I see for United States senator, which is a very activist, aggressive fighter for the people of Connecticut.
ORSON: Howard Reiter is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Connecticut. He says Democrats no longer face the difficult prospect of trying to save an endangered incumbent.
Professor HOWARD REITER (Political Science, University of Connecticut): Well, it certainly removes an albatross from the Democrats. It gives the Democrats a much stronger chance of holding on to that seat.
ORSON: Early polls show Blumenthal with a commanding lead over anyone the Republicans put up. But Reiter says the GOP is seeing a lot of national momentum, even in Connecticut.
Prof. REITER: He will certainly benefit from his longstanding popularity with the voters. I mean, some of that will carry over. But the national context is not as favorable to Democrats this year as it was in 2008 or 2006. So, you know, there's a question mark there.
ORSON: The frontrunner for the Republican nomination is thought to be former Congressman Rob Simmons. Only days ago, Simmons was confident he could defeat both his primary opponent, former World Wrestling executive Linda McMahon and Dodd. Now, he has the specter of Blumenthal as his opponent in November. But Simmons insists things are not that different.
Mr. ROB SIMMONS (Former Republican Congressman, Connecticut): The way I look at it is there is going to be a change in the face, but not necessarily a change in the race. The issues that we've been interested in - deficit spending, the increased debt, the failure of the stimulus package, unemployment - are still there.
ORSON: Although the GOP has been relishing the thought of running against Dodd, some in the party like former state senator, James Fleming, say they're sorry to see him go.
Mr. JAMES FLEMING (Former Republican State Senator, Connecticut): I think it's a loss to the state. He's a senior senator, carries a lot of weight down there. I think for him and his family right now, we should say thank you.
ORSON: For the longest time, Connecticut Democrats had been grumbling about the state's other senator, the Democrat-turned-independent Joe Lieberman. Many couldn't wait for 2012 when Lieberman's term was up and they could try to unseat him. But for now, they're thrilled that a Senate race that once looked gone has somehow become far more promising.
For NPR News, I'm Diane Orson in New Haven.