HARTFORD, Conn. – Democratic U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd (search) on Tuesday became the first Connecticut senator elected by voters to a fifth term, easily beating Republican newcomer and admitted underdog Jack Orchulli (search).
The son of a U.S. senator, Dodd was a third-term congressman when he was first elected to the Senate in 1980. Last year he considered running for president, but after mulling it over for several months he opted out, citing family obligations and his desire to stay in the Senate.
"We owe it to the American people to do a better job for them than they've been getting," Dodd told supporters gathered in Connecticut.
Polls consistently showed that Orchulli faced an insurmountable battle against Dodd, one of Connecticut's most popular politicians.
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With 67 percent of precincts reporting, Dodd had 602,462 votes, or 65 percent, and Orchulli had 309,592 votes, or 33 percent. Libertarian Leonard Rasch had 7,535 votes, and Concerned Citizens candidate Timothy Knibbs had 7,166 votes.
An Associated Press exit poll found that Dodd got broad support from voters of all ages, incomes and political bents, including three in 10 voters who identified themselves as Republicans.
Orchulli got support from the most ardent supporters of President Bush, and from people who most strongly approved of the war in Iraq.
There were few undecided voters in the waning days of the campaign. Eight in 10 voters said they made up their minds for the Senate race more than a month ago.
Dodd has carved out a niche in the Senate on family and children's issues, sponsoring the landmark 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (search), which allows workers to 12 weeks of leave for the birth or adoption of a child or to tend to a family illness.
If Dodd completes his six-year term, he will be the state's longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate. Orville H. Platt, a Republican from Meriden, holds the record. He served from 1879 to 1905.
Dodd is the longest-serving Connecticut senator popularly elected. Prior to 1914, state legislatures elected the senators, including Platt.
Dodd said it is too early to talk about whether he will be interested in pursuing a Senate leadership post, but he said his best service "may come from doing what I've done for years, working with individuals on issues."
Despite buying some television advertising, Orchulli had name-recognition difficulties. He billed himself as an underdog candidate taking on an entrenched politician.
In an Oct. 18 debate, Orchulli accused Dodd of voting for higher taxes and failing to bring enough federal money back to Connecticut during his 24 years in the Senate and six years in the House.
"My opponent has been in Washington for 30 years," said Orchulli, who asserted that his business experience would help his as a senator. "He's had his time. It's time for a fresh start."
Orchulli said he was not ruling out another stab at politics, mentioning U.S. Senate or governor as the seats that interest him the most.
"I've built some name recognition. I have a base to build on," he said. "There's no reason for me to go away."
Dodd, 60, of East Haddam, rarely mentioned Orchulli in debates or on the campaign trail — except to suggest that the Republican did not have the necessary experience to be a senator. Dodd mostly focused on President Bush, criticizing his record on education, tax policies and national security.