Following weeks of debate in Washington D.C., U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd arrived at Bradley International Airport just before noon on Christmas Eve to tout the Senate’s passage of a landmark health care reform bill. But its future is just as uncertain as Dodd’s.

“Enjoy it while you can. You’re not going to get re-elected,” a heckler shouted as he passed between terminals.

“Merry Christmas,” Dodd responded with a chuckle.

It did turn out to be a Merry Christmas, politically, for Dodd. He helped shepherd an historic health care reform bill to passage in the Senate Thursday morning, giving him a high-profile achievement to bring home as the hardest campaign of his life gets underway, the campaign for reelection to a sixth term. Dodd wasted no time, flying to Bradley within hours of the Senate vote and holding a pre-noon press conference right at the airport

In Washington D.C.’s airport a few people stopped and offered congratulations, Dodd said. “One fellow said, ‘I disagree with you, but congratulations.’”

And “You just heard someone walk by with an editorial comment,“ Dodd said referring to the heckler.

“I hear the critics and I hear the naysayers,” he said.

However, if you were just going to vote for this based on polling data then “I suppose you would have walked away from it,” Dodd said. “But we’ve seen historically that the best ideas haven’t always been terribly popular at the moment.“

“The implications of doing nothing are catastrophic,” Dodd added.

Dodd was asked how he thinks this historic Christmas Eve vote will impact his reelection campaign.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Dodd said. “I find it somewhat amusing that every move you make is seen as a political calculation.”

There are three Republicans challenging Dodd and at least two of them are beating him in the polls, which has some Democrats whispering about asking Dodd to step aside so the party can maintain the seat.

But Dodd, tired from the longest continuous debate in the Senate since 1917, didn’t seem to want to talk much about politics Thursday.

In answering the question about how the vote may affect his reelection campaign,  he went on to talk instead about being an “accidental participant” in the health care debate. 

“Had it not been for the illness and death of Senator Kennedy I’d be a vote on the bill and vote in the committee. I ended up in this job not because I sought it, but because I ended up being the next ranking member of the committee.”

In that role, he took over committee hearings that produced the bill. Then he served as a Democratic leader shepherding the final bill to passage on the Senate floor.

This morning before returning to Connecticut Dodd visited the grave of U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy at Arlington Cemetery. As he was pulling up to Kennedy’s grave site he received a call from President Barack Obama congratulating him on a job well-done.

But Dodd, whose been getting about three to four hours of sleep a night these past few weeks, hardly seemed enthusiastic Thursday.

“This is still really a beginning, not an end to this debate,” Dodd said. “But it allows us to go forward with that debate.”

He said the vote this morning in the U.S. Senate signaled for the first time in the nation’s history “that health care is your right, not a privilege,” Dodd said.

$100 Million In Pork?

Just this week Dodd was criticized for working a provision into the health care bill, which could potentially give the University of Connecticut’s John Dempsey Hospital $100 million to build or renovate.

Dodd said the provision is not an earmark for Connecticut because 13 other states could apply for the competitive grant. He said it was merely creating an opportunity.

“I’m not apologizing to anyone. This is needed in my view,” Dodd said. “If I had written something that just says this goes to Connecticut no matter what that qualifies as pork in my view.”

The state of Connecticut would have to put up a 60 percent match to qualify for the funding if it remains in the bill after final passage.