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The Most Vulnerable Senator Up for Re-Election in 2010?

Dodd, it should be noted, insists he has done nothing wrong and never knew he was receiving special treatment from Countywide (an assertion that some have disputed).

But in addition to his Countrywide problems, the Senator has also been forced to return contributions from R. Allen Stanford, a financier accused of defrauding investors, and admitted that he had been involved in the process that ultimately stripped from the stimulus bill a provision that would have limited bonuses American International Group executives eventually received.

The Senator said that his admission about his role in modifying the bill (at the request of Treasury Department officials) did not amount to a reversal of his initial explanation, but local and national media certainly played it as a switch.

To make things worse, Dodd’s wife was also on the board of directors of IPC Holdings, a Bermuda-based insurance company controlled by AIG.

Finally, and not insignificantly, Dodd riled some Connecticut voters when he moved his family to Iowa during the 2008 presidential contest, even going so far as to enroll his eldest daughter in a Des Moines kindergarten.

All of that adds up to political baggage that would fill one of Dodd’s mortgaged homes.

But Republicans ought to be realistic about their chances of ousting the Senator. Dodd is an incumbent who can raise more money than most candidates would ever need, and his Democratic label is a significant asset in the state.

Moreover, while the Senator has already hired an experienced campaign manager, at some point later this year thoughts of retirement will cross his mind — if his prospects look as bad as they now do. If he were to decide against seeking re-election, Democrats would likely find a strong candidate to replace him, reducing the GOP’s chances in the race.

Further, Republicans are headed to a two-way or three-way primary, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has already started attacking Simmons. A Senate bid would be a big step up for Caligiuri.

The primary, which could be expensive, both complicates GOP prospects and reflects Dodd’s vulnerability. You can be sure that Simmons and Caligiuri wouldn’t be in the race if Dodd had not been damaged by recent news stories and events.

It seems as if every election cycle one supposedly safe Senator up for re-election somehow finds himself in an unexpectedly difficult race. In 2004, it was Bunning. In 2006, it was Sen. George Allen (R-Va.). Last year, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) was forced into a runoff. It already looks as if Chris Dodd will join that select club next year.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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