WASHINGTON — Sen. Christopher Dodd, the Senate Banking Committee chairman and architect of major health care legislation — but faced a difficult re-election battle — Wednesday said he will not seek another term.
"This is my moment to step aside," he said in a brief statement outside his East Haddam, Conn., home.
The Connecticut Democrat's announcement is the second stunning decision by a veteran Democratic senator in less than 24 hours — Tuesday, North Dakota's Byron Dorgan said he also would not seek re-election.
The announcements are likely to be a boon to Republicans. GOP candidates led Dodd and Dorgan in recent polls. In Connecticut, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a popular Democrat, is expected to run for the seat.
Dodd, 65, was seen as particularly vulnerable. Though highly regarded in Washington insider circles as a consummate legislative dealmaker, he faces enormous trouble in Connecticut, where constituents are angry about his absence in 2007, when he sought the presidency.
Dodd had temporarily moved to Iowa late that year, hoping to gain support in that state's 2008 presidential caucus. But his move coincided with a historic collapse of the nation's financial system and its economy, and his absence was felt back home.
He also faced controversy over low-interest mortgages he received under a special program for VIPs, as well as a decision last year to weaken a provision dealing with executive pay in the economic stimulus legislation. That provision, requested by the White House, included bonuses for executives at financial giant AIG; Dodd said he did not know about those bonuses at the time.
Dodd had two potentially tough challengers, Republicans Rob Simmons, a former congressman from eastern Connecticut, and Linda McMahon, World Wrestling Entertainment executive.
But there were personal as well as political reasons for Dodd's decision. As he noted in his statement, he had a particularly challenging year last year. His sister Martha died in July, he underwent surgery for prostate cancer and he lost his close friend, Sen. Edward Kennedy, who died in August.
Dodd on Wednesday recalled visiting Kennedy's grave shortly after the Christmas Eve vote to pass health care legislation. Kennedy, chairman of the Senate health committee, had long been a champion of health care change.
"On the early, frigid dawn of December 24th, Christmas Eve, with snow piled high along the streets of our nation's capital, I cast one of the most important, if not the most important, votes of my years in the United States Senate: a bill to fundamentally reform the health care of our nation," Dodd said.
"An hour later, I was standing on the Virginia hillside at Arlington Cemetery where Ted Kennedy rests along with his brothers in eternity, as he is in history, wishing that I could have seen the look in Teddy's eyes as the United States Senate took that historic step an hour before."
Dodd is the son of former Connecticut Sen. Thomas Dodd, who served from 1959 to 1971. Today's news came as a shock, because Dodd has long been a student of the Senate, someone who was first elected in 1980 at age 36, who sought the Democratic leadership job and had a reputation for brokering deals with Republicans.
He insisted his decision was motivated by many factors.
"Let me be clear," Dodd said. "I'm very aware of my present political standing here at home in Connecticut, but it is equally clear that any certain prediction about an election victory or defeat nearly a year from now would be absurd.
"Strange as it may sound, I'm not confident that I would be standing here today making this announcement if these situations had not occurred."
"None of these events nor circumstances, either individually or collectively, is the cause of my decision not to seek re-election," he said. "Yet together these challenges have given me pause to take stock and to ask questions that too few of us in elected public life ever do: Why am I running?"