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Dodd Wrestled with Public Image

WASHINGTON - It was only a few years ago that Sen. Chris Dodd, who announced Wednesday he will not seek a sixth term, enjoyed a soaring approval rating that gave him the confidence to run for president.

The veteran Democrat, born into a family of politicians, was outspoken on foreign affairs, championed landmark legislation for families and built a reputation on getting policy enacted. He won his last election, in 2004, with more than 66 percent of the vote.

Polls showed his popularity collapsed after his failed 2008 presidential campaign and a series of scandals. The non-partisan Cook Political Report recently rated his race as leaning toward a Republican takeover - the only incumbent Senate Democrat in that position.

Dodd's early support in deep-blue Connecticut was partly a product of his legislative accomplishments, supporters said. He was an architect of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which has allowed millions of workers to take unpaid leave for serious illness and childbirth since 1993. He also helped write a federal voting law after the 2000 presidential election.

"When you think about the quality, the content of the legislation that Chris Dodd has authored, has passed, it really is quite extraordinary," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who managed Dodd's first Senate campaign.

Polls show Dodd's troubles began after he announced his 2008 presidential bid and moved his family to Iowa in advance of the state's caucuses. A Quinnipiac University poll in late 2007 found that 55 percent of Connecticut voters thought Dodd was spending too much time on the campaign trail.

Controversy erupted in 2008 over whether Dodd, chairman of the Senate banking committee, received preferential treatment on two Countrywide Financial mortgages. A Senate ethics panel dropped its inquiry in August 2009, saying it could find no evidence of a sweetheart deal.

Dodd was also under pressure last year for a provision he inserted into the $787 billion economic stimulus package that allowed insurance giant AIG to pay out millions of dollars in retention bonuses after the company had been bailed out by taxpayers. Dodd said that he made the changes after a request from the White House and that he didn't realize its implications for AIG.

As the challenges mounted, Dodd worked hard to reshape his image. He took over the Senate's health committee as his close friend, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., battled brain cancer. He crafted a massive health care bill - some of which was included in the version passed by the Senate on Dec. 24.

Dodd also shepherded legislation last year to crack down on credit card companies. Much of that law takes effect in February.

"He was making a comeback, but he never got back to the kind of numbers he once had," said Douglas Schwartz of Quinnipiac.

Dodd will remain in the Senate through 2010 and will play a role in this year's effort to regulate Wall Street, said Travis Plunkett with Consumer Federation of America. Plunkett predicted Dodd's decision to retire could make it easier for him to get the bill passed.

"For Dodd, this is what's left," he said. "This kind of opportunity does not come along very often."

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