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After suffering through perhaps the worst week of his Senate career, Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) on Tuesday looked to cloak himself in normalcy and move beyond the political drama that has put his re-election in peril.
In beginning this weeks first full day of Senate business by chairing a hearing of his powerful committee, Dodd looked confident probing witnesses, chatting with his fellow committee members, and seeming eager to talk with reporters after the session concluded.
Dodd bounced from Tuesdays committee hearing to the Senate Democrats weekly policy luncheon to an afternoon floor speech on a noncontroversial bill. All the while, he appeared as though last weeks damaging news about his role in the payment of executive bonuses at American International Group never broke.
The five-term Senate Democrat said he harbors no hard feelings toward the White House, which briefly allowed him to take the fall over the AIG flap. Dodd was a key negotiator on the $787 billion economic stimulus bill that allowed the executive bonuses to go through and acknowledged that while he inserted the loophole, he did so at the behest of the Obama administration.
Dodd on Tuesday described his relationship with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner as very, very good, explaining that the two spoke on Sunday about the White Houses fix for the credit markets as proposed on Monday. Our staffs are working back and forth; weve got some meetings later this week so its fine, Dodd said.
Dodd may be fine with the White House, but hes not necessarily fine back home, where public opinion polls show he has lost significant ground with voters. Complicating matters for the veteran Democrat: Hes in charge of the Senate committee handling major efforts to reverse the economic downturn.
Dodds political problems are compounded by news reports that he received a special mortgage deal from Countrywide Insurance even as home foreclosures continue to mount nationally, not to mention in his home state of Connecticut. Countrywide ended up in financial trouble before being purchased by Bank of America.
I think that making those tough decisions, putting the nation first before his politics before the politics of the Democratic Party at the time shows that in fact he is going to have a great argument to make back in Connecticut, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) said. But having said that, when you make tough decisions and you spend down political capital, you need to rebuild it.
In what would otherwise be a slam-dunk for re-election in Democratic-leaning Connecticut, Dodd is looking at his most competitive campaign since he came to the Senate almost 30 years ago. And its a far cry from his position just two years ago when he mounted a bid for his partys presidential nomination, albeit unsuccessfully.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has already indicated that they plan to target Dodd in 2010, successfully recruiting former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) to challenge him. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Simmons in a statistical dead heat with Dodd, 43 percent to 42 percent, among 1,238 registered voters in the state.