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Hartford - In just a matter of hours Wednesday, the race for the U.S. Senate shifted entirely.
In making the announcement that he will seek the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Chris Dodd, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal grabbed what could be his last chance at a seat he first eyed decades ago.
And with an announced Blumenthal candidacy, Democrats were a contained style of giddy at Wednesday's press conference - at once somberly declaring the day an homage to Dodd even as they gleefully guessed at the Republicans' mood - as the long-held senate seat that seemed so precariously balanced this past year suddenly appeared well within hand.
Democrats quickly began releasing poll numbers Wednesday: Blumenthal with a 30-point lead over Republican challenger Rob Simmons. And even though the numbers came from a Democratic firm, Public Policy Polling, the party could also look back at a Quinnipiac University poll in November that put Blumenthal's approval rating at 78 percent.
"I have the goal of fighting as tirelessly and tenaciously in the United States Senate for the people of Connecticut as I have done for the last two decades as attorney general," Blumenthal said.
"People in Connecticut know that I've never walked away from a fight and I've always put them first. I will be a fighter in Washington for change, I will stand strong against scams and special interests and I will make a priority the people of our state in the United States senate, and fight for them first and last and always."
For now, Blumenthal is the odds-on favorite in a crowded race that features three Republicans and one other Democrat, Mystic businessman Merrick Alpert. Republican candidates include former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon and financier Peter Schiff.
It appeared unlikely that another Democrat would jump into the race after Blumenthal's announcement.
"Any person thinking about it," said State Sen. Paul Doyle, D-Wethersfield, "is done."
But Alpert said he welcomes Blumenthal's entrance; he sent letters to both Dodd and Blumenthal on Wednesday, commending Dodd for stepping down and thanking him for his service, and welcoming Blumenthal to the race.
Alpert reiterated that view during a phone interview early Wednesday night. "I think he's a good fellow and I look forward to a vigorous primary and an issues-based campaign," he said.
Alpert said he plans to continue with his campaign and said a primary is beneficial to Democrats, who will better educate voters through debates and clarifying where they stand on issues.
Alpert said the last presidential election is a good example. "Had there been a coronation two years ago, then Hillary Clinton would have been the Democratic nominee," he said. "But there was an election, and a fellow who was a relatively unknown and nobody assumed would be able to win, by the power of his ideas and his vision was able to win."
Republicans on Wednesday said a Blumenthal candidacy would vary little from Dodd's term.
"Sending more career politicians to Washington is only going to produce more of the same," said Ed Patru, a spokesman for McMahon, who described voters as being anxious and "in a bad mood."
McMahon "brings real-world experience" and has struggled, Patru said, while also building a business.
"That is why Linda McMahon has all the momentum in this race," Patru said, "and that is why people are attracted to her candidacy."
Said Raj Shah, communications director for Simmons: "Richard Blumenthal is certainly popular, but he has not confronted contentious issues nor faced a serious opponent in years. He will have to explain the failed Democratic policies of higher taxes, bigger government, exploding debt, and a misguided and weak approach to the terrorist threat we face.
"Rob Simmons has won tough races in Connecticut for years against similar and even longer odds, and this year will be no different."
Schiff issued a statement saying, "We will not fix the problems created by Chris Dodd by sending his protégé to replace him."
Blumenthal declined to elaborate on his platform for the upcoming race and, despite the dozens of cameras and reporters in the room at Wednesday's press conference, said he would be making an "official" announcement soon.
He said he had learned of Dodd's decision within the past 24 hours and had never spoken with the senator about stepping down.
Blumenthal won't step down from the attorney general's position, but neither is he seeking re-election, he said.
While Blumenthal is best known for his role as state attorney general, he also served as state senator (1987-1990) and state representative (1984-1987).
Blumenthal's name was bandied about as a potential U.S. senate candidate when he was a young federal prosecutor in the late 1970s. He had been an aide to U.S. Sen. Abraham Ribicoff and was a student of U.S. Sen. Patrick Moynihan while studying at Harvard.
Even then, it was noted in a column that ran in The Day, "(Blumenthal) also has an uncanny sense for being where he will attract notice," pointing out that he often showed up where television cameras and photographers were likely to be.
That propensity for the spotlight has been a source of much ribbing for Blumenthal. In Gov. M. Jodi Rell's annual gag Christmas shopping list, presented in a speech to the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce last month, the governor said she had some old photos of her and Blumenthal but added that they were overexposed.
"But then I realized, hey, this is Dick Blumenthal we're talking about, and he's never worried about overexposure," Rell said.
Blumenthal did list as priorities job creation, economic recovery, reform of the financial regulatory system, health care, preserving the environment and keeping military men and women safe. He did not expound on them.
While Republicans were quick to say Blumenthal has never run in a tough race, the attorney general countered that he has fought many tough battles, whether against big tobacco, power plants or taking on federal court.
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree, Harvard University, 1967; law degree, Yale University School of Law, 1973.
EXPERIENCE: Attorney general, 1990-present; state Senate, 1987-90; state House of Representatives, 1984-87; U.S. attorney for Connecticut, 1977-81; law clerk, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun, 1974-75; aide to former U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan when he was assistant to the president, 1968-69.
FAMILY: Wife, Cynthia; four children.