SIMMONS A FORMIDABLE FOE FOR
DODD

For The Norwich Bulletin
Mar 21, 2009

Washington, D.C. — Resembling the two-year run-
up to a presidential election, the race for
Christopher Dodd’s Senate seat is well under way
— with the familiar figure of Rob Simmons already
standing up to challenge Connecticut’s senior
senator.

Simmons leaped into the race last week with some
serious momentum bestowed by a Quinnipiac
University poll that suggested he could win a head-
to-head contest with Dodd.
Because Simmons, the former 2nd District
congressman, doesn’t have great statewide name
recognition, the poll marks another big hint that
Dodd’s decades-long  popularity is ebbing.

The poll showed Simmons winning 43 percent to
Dodd’s 42 — a statistical dead heat. (In other
hypothetical contests, Dodd had substantial leads
over other possible Republican candidates, CNBC
personality Larry Kudlow and state Sen. Sam
Caligiuri.)

“It’s big news when a big household name like
Dodd is in trouble,” said Douglas Schwartz,
director of the polling institute. “He’s won in a
landslide in every re-election he’s had. This is the
first time it looks like he’s going to have a tough
race.”

Simmons, a Connecticut-style moderate
Republican, lost his 2006 2nd District re-election
bid by only 83 votes. In a very tough year for
Republicans, that was the closest congressional
race in the country. But can Simmons compete as a
statewide candidate? The polling data showed him
doing well in his old stomping grounds east of the
Connecticut River and pretty well in the Hartford
area, though he trailed in the rest of the state.

Simmons said the poll pushed him into the race
sooner than he intended.

“When you’re head-to-head with a 34-year
incumbent senator and only 50 percent of the
people polled even know who you are, it tends to
get people excited,” he said, though he doesn’t
intend to make it official until April 1.

The Stonington Republican Town Committee
endorsed Simmons’ unofficial candidacy Saturday.

In a statement, Simmons, who lives in Stonington,
said he was honored. “The Stonington Republican
Town Committee has been the heart and soul of
my political support since 1985, and I thank you
for that.”

When the former state lawmaker, six-year
congressman, Army veteran and CIA agent, who
led the House subcommittee on intelligence, lost
his seat, he became a state official — appointed as
Connecticut’s first “business advocate” by Gov.
M. Jodi Rell. But the Legislature eliminated the
position, leaving him free this year to work
without distraction on his campaign.

But it’s about 19 months before Election Day.
That’s a very long time in politics, and public
opinion will have a lot of time to shift, depending
on how successful the Democrats are in their
current dominance of Washington.

And as one of the most powerful senators in D.C.,
Dodd has ample time to build a campaign war
chest. He’s an accomplished fundraiser, although
his chief source of campaign support typically has
been from the financial industry — a well that may
not be as deep (or popular with voters) this time
around.

“It is a long ways off,” Schwartz said. “Dodd has
plenty of time to come back. But nonetheless, in a
Democratic state where he’s so well know, he has
to be concerned.”

Blood in the water

Whichever Republican candidate ends up facing
Dodd, this race can be counted on to supply one of
the goriest political battlefields in the nation.
Because Democrats in the Senate are a single vote
away from having a filibuster-proof majority, each
seat is more meaningful than ever.
This one is already the subject of clashes between
the parties’ Senate campaign committees.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee’s
Web site has been featuring a video lampooning
Dodd’s ownership of an Irish vacation home —
just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. And more than
half of the anti-Democrat links on the site’s recent-
news list involve Dodd.

“Whether it’s the controversy with Countrywide,
his move to Iowa … it’s clear that voters have a lot
of questions for Sen. Dodd,” committee spokesman
Brian Walsh said. “We expect this will be quite a
competitive election next year. Despite the fact
that Connecticut is a blue state, this will be a
referendum on Sen. Dodd. ... He’s done some
damage to himself.”

For their part, the Democrats already have begun
slamming Simmons, and all their attention is
making him look even more like a serious
challenger. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign
Committee is working hard to align him with
former President George W. Bush in people’s
minds.

“Rob Simmons is no moderate,” committee
spokesman Eric Schultz said. “He’s a staunch
supporter of George Bush’s economic plans —
played a very tangible role in implementing them.”
And the Democrats are pointing out that the
former congressman was associated with some
ethically dubious people, such as disgraced
lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Walsh seemed glad the other side brought up ethics.

“It just surprised me on a political level that they
would want to elevate the ethics issue when that’s
the playing field we’re looking to run on next year.”

The campaign story lines are forming:

From Eric Schultz on the Democrat team: “I think
the people of Connecticut are going to associate
Senator Dodd with somebody who’s working
every day with President Obama to get the
economy back on track.”

From Walsh on Simmons: “He’s experienced. He’s
battle-tested.”

Practical matters

Simmons raised a healthy $3.1 million during his
2006 race. But Senate races are seriously expensive.

U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., had to pull in
a whopping $20.2 million to beat Ned Lamont in
2006. Two years earlier, Dodd raised $7.1 million,
but that was a challenge for which the veteran
senator didn’t break a sweat.

Though he hasn’t officially announced his run for
re-election in 2010, the senator’s Friends of Chris
Dodd committee had more than $670,000 on hand
by the start of this year.

No matter how shaky Dodd looks in polling right
now, state Republicans aren’t rushing to celebrate.
Chris Healy, chairman of the Connecticut GOP,
said he has no idea how well a challenger ultimately
will do against a “very skilled” Dodd.

“I wouldn’t take a bet on it,” he said. He would
only call it “an opportunity” to unseat the senior
senator.

“He’s going to have all the money he needs from
near and far,” Healy said. “You can never
underestimate the power of incumbency.” Yet, that
same three-decade experience may also hurt him,
Healy ventured. “Politics is like theater. Sometimes
you have to know when to leave the stage.”

Simmons, a former marathoner, prefers the analogy
of a long-distance run. “You try not to burn
yourself out the first few minutes of the race.” So,
he’ll pace himself. “That’s what I intend to do
with Senator Dodd.” That, and throwing a few
elbows.

Simmons criticized the senator for the recent
accusations of special deals on his mortgages.
“Why can’t we see the mortgage documents? What
gives here? Where’s the sense of responsibility?”
And Simmons slammed Dodd’s fumbling over the
bonuses to executives of AIG.
“What happened to the idea of reading a bill before
we passed it?”

The challenger plans to introduce himself to voters
in the western half of the state and talk about the
economy — particularly the struggles of small
businesses.

“To me it’s about getting things done. No tap
dancing, No fancy footwork. Get ’er done.” Right
now, all the campaign work is being planned from
his Stonington home. “In my house and in my
head,” he said. So far, it’s a head smiling from good
polling results.

Douglas Schwartz made the point that the
Quinnipiac polling was done before the blow-up of
the situation with AIG and Dodd’s role at the
center of it. “So, his numbers could actually be
even worse.”

Long way to go

On Thursday, Dodd answered questions about the
controversy with AIG, but he said he wasn’t
thinking of it in the context of his next election.

“We’re so far away,” he said. “There are going to
be so many issues over the coming weeks.”
When asked if he would consider leaving the
chairmanship of the banking committee, he said no.
“I’ve spent years working on these issues. I care
about them,” he said. “I’ve got a long record of
serving people.”

And about whether he was worried about the
recent poll results, he said he can’t afford to live by
the polls. “I can’t function that way.” He
suggested people’s frustration stems from this
difficult economic period. “There’s never been a
tougher time in our lifetimes.”

“Over a long period of years, I’ve enjoyed the trust
and confidence of people,” Dodd said. Come
November 2010, he said he hopes Connecticut’s
voters return him to office. “They’ll have that
option.”
.