AS United States Sen. Christopher Dodd (D) of Connecticut wraps up the last few days of his reelection campaign, he may well feel sheltered from the strong anti-incumbent winds blowing across the country this year.
Despite his 18-year record in Congress and recent criticism that he has been out of touch with his district, Senator Dodd has managed to stay in the lead against his Republican opponent, Brook Johnson, a wealthy Greenwich businessman.
Some observers call Mr. Johnson, who has poured more than $1 million of his own money into the campaign, the state's version of Ross Perot. A political outsider, he says he knows how to solve the country's deficit and initiate government reforms.
A mid-October poll conducted by the University of Connecticut's Institute for Social Inquiry showed Dodd leading Johnson 51 percent to 30 percent, with 20 percent undecided. "I think it is certainly far too early to say ... that Dodd has somehow sewed this up," says G. Donald Ferree Jr., director of the poll.
The key issues are jobs and the economy. In Connecticut, a deep recession and troubled defense, finance, and insurance industries have forced thousands of people out of work.
The defense industry's decline is a key concern and Dodd has deftly used it to his advantage. He is campaigning on his success in restoring a Seawolf nuclear-submarine contract for the Groton-based Electric Boat shipyard after President Bush proposed canceling the submarine program earlier this year.
Through hard lobbying in Congress, Dodd was able to secure a contract for a second submarine along with funding for a third. "Had the president got his way, Electric Boat would have closed its doors and a vital part of our manufacturing base would have been compromised," says Marvin Fast, Dodd's campaign spokesman.
Johnson is nevertheless launching a strong campaign as an outsider. A former textile-manufacturing executive who now owns a bath and towel company, Johnson says his fresh ideas would revitalize a Congress beset with insider politicians beholden to special-interest groups. He favors term limitations, a balanced-budget amendment, and campaign-finance reform. Like Dodd, he favors abortion rights.
Observers say Johnson is a viable candidate, but lacks political experience. "He is articulate and good-looking and relatively informed, and I think his major handicap is that he doesn't have any political experience," says Howard Reiter, political science professor at the University of Connecticut. "He has come in as a neophyte ... with somewhat of a large bag of money, and that's not always an effective image to threaten an incumbent with."
Dick Foley, state Republican Party chairman, says Johnson has gained wide name recognition over the past five months. Mr. Foley faults Dodd's position on the Seawolf. "Dodd touts this as being an example of his responsiveness, building a submarine we don't need, ... which delays defense conversion, which increases the federal deficit, and ultimately increases taxes," he says.
Both candidates have launched aggressive campaigns, each one accusing the other of negative TV advertising. Johnson says Dodd is a "tax and spend" liberal who did nothing while the state lost thousands of jobs during the recession. The Dodd campaign attacks Johnson for selling the US subsidiary of his company and instead investing in Northern Ireland, England, and Canada.
Dodd has served six years in the US House of Representatives and 12 years in the Senate. The divorced senator has tried to counteract his image as somewhat of a playboy, similiar to that of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, by pushing an agenda focused on family-related issues. He has supported the Family Leave Act, which would require businesses with more than 50 employees to grant 12 weeks of unpaid leave to workers who have a new child or must care for a sick relative.
Observers credit Dodd, earlier perceived as vulnerable, for turning his situation around.