Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, a five-term Democrat whose political stock began falling after the financial meltdown and his failed 2008 presidential bid, has decided not to seek re-election in November, Democratic officials told The Associated Press early Wednesday.
Dodd was expected to make an announcement Wednesday. The officials who disclosed his plans would speak only on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement. The Washington Post first reported Dodd's decision.
Word of his retirement comes hours after North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan announced he will not seek re-election.
Dodd, 66, is chairman of Senate Banking Committee, which was at the center of efforts to deal with the economic meltdown. And he has played a prominent role in the debate over overhauling health care, taking over for his friend Ted Kennedy during his illness and then after his death.
Given Dodd's bad poll standing, other Democrats have gone out of their way to give him the spotlight in hopes he could recover before November.
With the embattled Dodd stepping aside, Democrats can now try to recruit a more popular candidate to run in Democratic-leaning state, bolstering the prospects of thwarting a Republican victory. Among the early favorites to replace Dodd is longtime Connecticut state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is seen as one of the state's most popular politicians.
"Republicans thought they might steal this seat, but now they should probably look elsewhere," said Roy Occhiogrosso, a veteran Democratic strategist in Connecticut and a Dodd supporter. "This is Dick Blumenthal's race. People in Connecticut know who he is. They know the work he's done. They know he can go to Washington and continue the same kind of work."
Dodd, who has taken heat for a discounted VIP mortgage loan he got from a subprime lender, has been consistently behind potential GOP challenger Rob Simmons in Connecticut polls. Simmons, a former House member, has his own challenger in World Wrestling Entertainment co-founder Linda McMahon, who is also seeking the Republican nomination for Dodd's seat.
As recently as Monday, Dodd brushed aside questions about stepping aside for another Democratic candidate, and insisted he was in the race for good. He acknowledged that some of his fellow Democrats were "antsy" with his low poll numbers, but said things can change quickly in politics.
"Clearly I'm glad the race isn't today, and the good news is, it's not," Dodd told reporters as he toured a small manufacturing company in Bristol, Conn.
Last week, Dodd's campaign sent an e-mail to supporters seeking contributions. "The Republicans have declared my seat as one of the top targets and they intend to spend whatever it takes to win," the e-mail said.
McMahon's campaign released a statement early Wednesday saying: "Linda McMahon's appeal in this race from day one has been that she's an outsider with real world experience at a time when it's clear Washington has lost its way and career politicians just don't get it. None of that changes."
Dodd ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, moving his family to Iowa for weeks before the caucuses and angering Connecticut constituents. He dropped out after a poor showing in Iowa.
As chairman of the Senate banking panel, Dodd has come under fire for his reliance on Wall Street contributions. He drew criticism for his role in writing a bill that protected bonuses for executives at bailed-out insurer American International Group Inc. and for allegations he got favorable treatment on two mortgages with Countrywide Financial Corp.
The Senate ethics panel cleared Dodd of breaking rules by getting the Countrywide mortgages but scolded him for not doing more to avoid the appearance of sweetheart deals. The Countrywide controversy, however, dogged Dodd for several months.
Dodd in August underwent surgery for prostate cancer; he said it was in an early, treatable stage. He also lost his closest friend in the Senate, Kennedy, who died last summer after a battle with brain cancer.
President Barack Obama won Connecticut handily in 2008.
Associated Press writers Andrew Miga and David Espo in Washington, and Susan Haigh in Hartford, Conn., contributed to this report.