Dodd says low poll numbers not cast in stone

Bristol - Sen. Chris Dodd's three-town swing through the state Monday was intended as a forum for the senator to discuss efforts to save jobs.

The job that kept coming up, and whether it can be preserved, was the senator's own.

Visiting a small manufacturer of springs and metal parts here, Dodd relentlessly turned conversations back to Democratic proposals to help small businesses ride out the current business climate. The most recent of these is a proposal to redirect what the senator called a "sizable" chunk of the money being returned to the federal government by banks bailed out under the Treasury Department's TARP program, and to use those funds to provide loans to small businesses that have still not been able to get banks to extend them credit to continue their operations.

"The basic common issue for every one of them," Dodd said of small-business owners he has spoken to in recent months, is "they can't get a nickel."

That problem hasn't directly affected Colonial Han-Dee Spring, said the company's president, William J. Lathrop. The company is owned by another firm based in Dallas and receives its needed credit through its parent company, Lathrop said. But company officials are concerned about preserving state-level worker training programs, he added, and are wary of "anything that raises costs."

"We're starting 2010 in a better spot than we ended 2009," Lathrop said. "We've had a tough couple years, and hopefully we're at the end of that."

The company had about 35 employees last year; as of Monday, Lathrop said, there were only 26, and many had experienced reduced hours as the company tries to work through the downturn.

But while Dodd seemed chipper as he talked about Democratic initiatives to buoy small business, his demeanor soured a little at repeated inquiries from reporters about his sagging approval ratings and the supposition that the party might try in desperation to force him off the ticket in hopes of saving his seat.

Poll numbers are fleeting and projections folly, the senator said.

"Who would have thought that about a year ago we'd be in a situation today where the president's numbers have fallen - a guy that only 340 days ago was inaugurated as a tremendously popular president," Dodd said, adding of President Barack Obama's public support, "I presume a lot of that will come back in time."

"But certainly things can change overnight," he continued. "On Sept. 10, 2001, you couldn't have given a nickel for Rudy Giuliani's chances in the state of New York for any job. Forty-eight hours later he was America's mayor. So again, when people start talking about predicting politics, I find it somewhat ironic, particularly people who follow this business, who realize how mercurial it is. So clearly I'm glad the race isn't today, and the good news is it's not."

Dodd acknowledged that his low poll numbers have made some Democrats "antsy," but he insisted he was in the race for good.

When Mark Davis, the chief political correspondent for WTNH-Channel 8, persistently questioned Dodd about his primary challenger, Merrick Alpert, and the challenger's claim that the senator shared blame for the financial crisis because of support for deregulation efforts in the 1990s, Dodd was curt.

"I reject that argument," he said sharply, then looked around for the next question.

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