Chris Dodd has been in Washington for a very, very long time. When his current term comes to an end in January of 2011, he’ll have been in office for an even thirty years.
When he began his Senate career in January of 1981, the Soviet Union still had ten years to run, ColecoVision had yet to be released, and I was three years old. My family would move from Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, to our new house in Newington later that month. I grew up in Newington, attended high school in Windsor, went to college in New London, and eventually settled in Enfield with my wife. Through all that time, which has covered essentially my entire life, Chris Dodd has been in the Senate.
Dodd won his first term in the U.S. Senate back in 1980 by defeating the older brother of William F. Buckley, former New York Senator James L. Buckley, 56%-43%. That thirteen point win would be the narrowest margin of victory Dodd would be forced to endure in any of his five successful Senate campaigns.
He has, in fact, easily defeated all comers by margins ranging from 20 points in 1992 to 34 points in 2004. A broad statewide coalition of Democrats and independents have willingly returned Dodd to office time and again.
Until recently, he had an air of permanence about him. Dodd is already the longest-serving U.S. Senator in Connecticut history. He’s also the longest-serving member of Congress from Connecticut. He has been a fixture, the immovable object and the irresistible electoral force. He is the great incumbent, a symbol for an era when terms for Connecticut’s representatives in the Senate and Congress have grown longer and longer.
Consider: During the fifty years from 1909 to 1959, there were fourteen different U.S. Senators from Connecticut. However, in the fifty years from 1959 to 2009, there have been only six, a third of whom have been Dodds. In fact, Chris Dodd and his father can account for all but ten of the past fifty years: the decade from 1971-81. If we count Chris Dodd’s three terms in the House, a Dodd has represented Connecticut in Washington in one capacity or another for all but four of the past fifty years.
Connecticut is called the Land of Steady Habits, though this has not always been the case. We do, however, develop certain habits over time. One of these has been electing Chris Dodd every six years. The sad thing is that if Dodd had not caused himself so much trouble with his mortgage, his blunders with the financial sector, his handling of AIG and all of his other problems, then he probably would have been elected again in 2010. If anyone had asked in 2007 or 2006, it would have seemed a sure thing for Dodd to extend his record-breaking term in the Senate to thirty-six years at the very least.
Now, though, people in this state seem like they’re getting ready to break the habit. It seemed impossible two years ago, but in 2011 there’s a strong probability that we’ll have a new senator.
If not Dodd, then who?
Dodd could still turn this thing around, of course, but he’s got a steep uphill climb ahead of him. However, it seems that some Democrats are already convinced that Dodd isn’t up to it. Nationally, a few prominent voices in the Democratic blogosphere are calling for someone else to replace Dodd on the ticket, like perhaps Richard Blumenthal, Chris Murphy or Rosa DeLauro.
To those people, I’ll tell you right now: Chris Dodd isn’t going to go quietly. Richard Blumenthal would not dare (or presume) to primary him, and neither Chris Murphy nor Rosa DeLauro have an incentive right now to challenge Dodd in a primary, not unless they were certain that they could actually beat him. A high percentage of Democrats still approve of Dodd, so it’s not a foregone conclusion that Dodd would be beaten in a primary. The progressive coalition that successfully backed Lamont and Obama in statewide primaries is still (mostly) behind Dodd, after all. Therefore, a primary would be a big risk for high-profile Democrats, who could wake up one August morning in 2010 and find it was all for nothing.
What this leaves is the possibility that someone less well-known would take Dodd on. Maybe someone in the legislature, or one of the other constitutional officers. Maybe someone unknown from outside, like this guy, former Greenwich First Selectman Roger Pearson.
Maybe, and this is the frightening part for Democrats watching from Washington, it’ll be no one at all.