U.S. News

Senator Dodd Will Not Seek Re-election, Democrats Say

Adam Nagourney|The New York Times

Senator Christopher J. Dodd, the embattled Connecticut Democrat who was facing an increasingly tough bid for a sixth term in the United States Senate, has decided not to seek re-election this year, Democrats familiar with his plans said Wednesday.

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Christopher Dodd (CT - D)
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Mr. Dodd, 65, is to announce his decision at a news conference Wednesday afternoon in Connecticut.

The decision came hours after another Democratic senator, Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota, also announced that he would not seek re-election this November. The developments underscored the fragility of the Democrats’ 60-vote Senate majority, which is just enough to block Republican filibusters. Democratic incumbents also face serious challenges in Arkansas, Colorado, Nevada and Pennsylvania among other states.

In this case, Mr. Dodd was already considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats facing re-election this November, and party officials had been privately hoping he would step aside. His move opens the way for the state’s highly popular attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, to run. Democrats and Republicans said he would be a much stronger candidate in what is a Democratic state.

Mr. Dodd’s decision was reported by The Washington Post on its Web site late Tuesday night, and later confirmed by his associates. As of early Wednesday morning, Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, had not heard from Mr. Dodd about his decision, according to aides to Mr. Reid.

Mr. Dodd has been a fixture in the Senate since his election in 1980 and had been at the center of the contentious recent debates on overhauling the health care system and financial regulation. In November he proposed an overhaul that included consolidating bank regulators, creating a consumer financial protection agency and imposing new restraints on exotic financial instruments and credit rating agencies.

But his standing in Connecticut had been on the decline starting when he made an unsuccessful run for the presidency in 2008 — moving his family to Iowa — and amid questions about a disputed loan he took from Countrywide Financial, the fallen subprime company.

On the Republican side, Mr. Dodd faced the prospect of running against Linda McMahon, a political novice who was prepared to use her vast personal fortune to beat the incumbent senator. Also challenging the senator was former Representative Rob Simmons, a Republican.

Mr. Dodd’s troubles escalated in 2008 when he was one of two Democratic senators – the other was Kent Conrad of North Dakota – who had been accused of receiving improper discounts from Countrywide Financial. In August, the Senate Select Committee on Ethics ruled that it had found “no credible evidence” that the senators had violated gift rules in accepting the loans.

But the committee criticized Mr. Dodd and Mr. Conrad for not avoiding the appearance of impropriety.

Both Mr. Dodd and Mr. Conrad had been members of the “Friends of Angelo” V.I.P. program at the bank, named after Angela R. Mozilo, the chief executive of Countrywide.

Polling in Connecticut suggested that Mr. Dodd had been hurt both by his association with Countrywide and by criticism for his role in legislation that appeared to clear the way for bonuses to be paid to executives of American International Group, the insurance firm that received a government bailout.

Republicans had viewed the issues as powerful weapons to use against him, particularly considering the depth of anger toward A.I.G. and Countrywide.

Even as his political prospects seemed to plummet, Mr. Dodd has been so busy over the last few months that some colleagues have joked about whether 2009-10 should be called the "Dodd Congress."

As chairman of the Senate banking committee, he had a central role in both the huge government rescue of the financial system and the economic stimulus package that was adopted at the start of last year.

Then, with his close friend, Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, battling terminal brain cancer, Mr. Dodd stepped in as acting chairman of the Senate health committee, which became the first Congressional panel to approve a version of far-reaching health care legislation last year.

Amid all of this, Mr. Dodd found out early last summer that he was suffering from prostate cancer and spent the August recess undergoing surgery and recuperating.

He is said to be in good health now. But even as he has been at the center of the action on Capitol Hill, the looming re-election battle in Connecticut has seemed to weigh heavily on him. And his decision to retire did not surprise his Senate colleagues.

-- David M. Herszenhorn contributed to this report.