WASHINGTON — Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd will not seek reelection this fall after months of dismal polling indicated the Connecticut Democrat's chances of winning a sixth term were bleak.
While the announcement makes Dodd a lame duck for 2010, most sources predicted his decision boosts the odds of enacting financial reform this year.
His decision also clears the deck for Sen. Tim Johnson, the panel's No. 2 Democrat to take over the committee in 2011.
"I came to the conclusion that, in the long sweep of American history, there are moments for each elected public servant to step aside and let someone else step up. This is my moment to step aside," said Dodd in a press conference Wednesday from his home in East Haddam, Conn.
Dodd cited the tough and busy year he's had in announcing his reasons to retire from the Senate at the end of 2010. Besides his political challenges, Dodd dealt with the death of his sister, the death of his close friend, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer in rapid succession in the late summer and early fall. He also played a lead role in what he called the two "most important issues" of our time: health care reform and financial regulatory reform.
"In the midst of all this, I found myself in the toughest political shape of my career," he said. "Now let me be clear, I am very aware of my present political standing here at home; but it is equally clear that any certain prediction about an election victory or defeat nearly a year from now, would be absurd."
The Cook Political Report, which tracks political races, made a rare exception in December when it moved Dodd from the "toss-up" category to "leans Republican." Usually, the report said it would only predict an incumbent would lose his seat this early in the election cycle if he were facing criminal charges, but the weak polls showed Dodd losing in a match up against even virtually unknown Republicans in a traditionally liberal state.
"It is increasingly clear to both independent analysts and Democratic leaders that Dodd is just too badly damaged to have a decent shot at getting reelected, almost regardless of who wins the Republican nomination," the Cook report said last month. "Dodd is about as unelectable as unindicted incumbents get."
Dodd's tenure was marked by enormous popularity and easy reelection wins until shortly after he assumed the reins of the Banking Committee following the 2006 elections. His decision to seek the Democratic presidential nomination, including moving his family to Iowa to campaign, proved a fatal one as polling suggested Connecticut voters felt he had lost touch with his constituents. Dodd was also criticized for focusing on his campaign while the financial crisis flared.
When Kennedy died in August, Dodd had the opportunity to assume the head of the Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee but said he felt obligated to finish his job as Banking chairman and complete financial reform to prevent another crisis from repeating itself.
Dodd said Wednesday his work is not over but did not lay out a specific agenda for the year. Instead he said he believes in "bipartisan solutions," but remains a proud Democrat who owes his career to his political party.
"My service is not over. I still have one year left on my contract," he said. "I believe in bipartisan solutions, but I also believe you only achieve those results with vibrant, robust and civil partisan debate. I am a Democrat and very proud of my party's contributions to the vitality and strength of America. I would never have had the opportunity to serve in the Congress had I not had the support and backing of my political party over the years."
Dodd also acknowledged his political problems.
"There is nothing more pathetic than a politician who announces they are only leaving public life to spend more time with their family," he said. "The result of this announcement today will, I hope, create that opportunity - but it is not the reason for my decision."