Hartford-(Updated with video) Connecticut’s longtime senator-in-waiting dispatched with a decades-old Hamlet routine Wednesday and leaped right into the race to succeed Chris Dodd.

Dick Blumenthal announced the leap at a 2:30 p.m. press conference at state Democratic Party headquarters.

He announced that he will seek the Democratic nomination in the 2010 race for the U.S. Senate. The five-term incumbent, Christopher Dodd, startled the state (sort of) earlier Wednesday by announcing he’s ending his reelection campaign amid a nose dive in popularity.

“I intend to be a candidate for the United States Senate. I will be making a formal announcement very, very shortly. But I want to leave no doubt today that I intend to be a candidate,” Blumenthal declared, standing at a podium in front of a “Connecticut Democrats” banner.

The setting underscored the state party establishment’s expected support for Blumenthal’s move.

Once a rising star in state politics, Blumenthal has been stuck in one position since 1990: the attorney general’s office. He has been among the state’s most recognized and popular elected officials in that spot. But he has repeatedly raised expectations about, then backed off, from launching bids for governor or senator; it became a Hamlet routine of “to run or not to run,” inevitably ending in a “not.”

That hesitation evaporated faster than dew in the summer sun Wednesday. Even before Dodd made his formal announcement at a noon press conference, Blumenthal began telling reporters that he’s unequivocally making the Senate leap.

In his brief remarks, Blumenthal praised Dodd effusively — then cast his campaign in a different light from that cast on Dodd in recent months. Dodd’s opponents have pilloried him as a captive of financial companies and other special interests in Washington; and as a protector of the status quo. He spoke of lawsuits he has filed against tobacco companies and the federal government.

“I’ve never walked away from a fight. I will be a fighter in Washington for change,” Blumenthal said. “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.”

He vowed to “change the way that Washington works” and “bring back jobs.”

Blumenthal told reporters Wednesday that he has received “a lot of encouragement” to run. That includes a phone call from President Barack Obama. According to White House sources, Obama called Blumenthal Wednesday evening to congratulate him on announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. The President wished him well on his campaign and told him that he would be happy to help if there was anything he could do to assist.

“I have two dead cell phones right now,” he quipped earlier in the afternoon.

YouTube video
Watch the video for a preview of Blumenthal’s policy platform and find out how he plans on handling his day job during the campaign.

Baby Boomer Openings

Blumenthal spoke in a hot, crowded room at the party headquarters on the third floor of a Main Street office building in Hartford. The air was thick with anticipation — as much about the future of the assorted politicians considering their next moves, as about Blumenthal’s intentions, which were known before he started speaking.

Blumenthal’s announcement shakes up at least two statewide races, if not more.

He’s the instant front-runner in the Senate race against three Republicans and a fellow Democrat. A new poll came out Wednesday showing Blumenthal clobbering the Republicans in the race. Click here for the release from Public Policy Polling, which conducted it. “Chris Dodd’s retirement has shifted one of the Democrats’ most vulnerable seats to one of their safest,” the North Carolina-based outfit stated in a release.

Meanwhile, Blumenthal’s announcement means he’s not running for reelection for attorney general, the job he has held since 1990. That suddenly opens up a top position for a generation of Baby Boomers waiting to advance to higher office. More immediately, it forced some top Democrats to make a quick choice: Should they continue competing in a field of (at least check) ten candidates for the nomination for governor? Or should they switch to seeking the less-competitive attorney general spot? Top contenders like Susan Bysiewicz and Dan Malloy were among those faced with that dilemma.

Bysiewicz’s campaign spokeswoman acknowledged the new terrain.

“Did today open up another potential option? Yes,” said the spokeswoman, Tanya Meck. “She still has an exploratory committee for statewide office. She still wants to serve the people of Connecticut. She’s still exploring her options.”

Within moments of Blumenthal’s announcement Wednesday, a new candidate entered the field: former State Sen. and Democratic State Party Chairman George Jepsen announced he will seek to become the new attorney general. Read about that here.

Mary Glassman said she’s sticking with her current plan — to run for governor. She just filed her papers yesterday.

Senate Spin Vs. Spin

Dick Blumenthal had a stratospheric 78 percent approval rating in the most recent Quinnipiac Poll, and only a 13 percent disapproval rating.

By contrast, Chris Dodd’s approval sank as low as 27 percent in the new PPP poll.

Three Republicans seeking Dodd’s seat, two of them new to politics, had been running ahead of him. They focused on his ethical controversies, among other issues.

“I think it’s a very different race” now, said New Haven Mayor John DeStefano. “Dick Blumenthal is a proven vote-getter, a popular politician. Most importantly people trust him. In many respects the campaign was not shaping up as one of change, but one of trust, betwen Dodd and the Republicans. Dick Blumenthal provides a pretty powerful answer to that anecdote.”

Within hours of the news breaking this morning, a new poll came out showing Blumenthal clobbering the Republicans in the race. Click here for the release from Public Policy Polling, which conducted it. “Chris Dodd’s retirement has shifted one of the Democrats’ most vulnerable seats to one of their safest,” the North Carolina-based outfit stated in a release.

The poll was conducted last week. It asked Connecticut voters about what was then a hypothetical Blumenthal candidacy. The results: Blumenthal topped Republicans Rob Simmons 59-28; Linda McMahon 60-28; and Peter Schiff 63-23.

“They were defining the campaign in terms of targets. Dodd was the target,” observed State Rep. Denise Merrill (who’s now running for secretary of the state). “Now that they’ve taken away the target, Republicans have to figure out what they do next. Do they focus on the issues?”

Republicans answered that question in releases issued Wednesday.

After “welcoming” Dick Blumenthal to the race, Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon portrayed him as another “career politician” like Dodd.

“It’s clear people have lost faith in Washington, and they do not believe the way to change Washington is to replace one career politician with another — particularly a candidate backed by the political establishment,” she said.

“Now that there is an open seat, I see an even better opportunity for Connecticut to elect a Republican to the Senate in November,” argued Tom Foley, who originally planned to run against Dodd, then switched to run for governor instead.

Another Democrat is also seeking the nomination, Merrick Alpert. He campaigned at a Plainville food pantry Wednesday morning while the nation’s media focused on Dodd and Blumenthal. He said he will “absolutely” remain in the race.

“While some of the players may change, the issues facing the people of Connecticut don’t,” Alpert said. He will need a new brand of soap, though; click here to read about that.

An independent take came from labor leader Leo Canty. He called Blumenthal a “great guy” but doubted he, or any other candidate, could waltz into the Senate and wield the kind of power Dodd did after accumulating three decades of seniority.

“Dick Blumenthal is a great guy,” said Canty, vice-president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. “But is he going to walk in and step in Dodd’s shoes and make the same kinds of decisions and move the same kind of agenda? No. No matter who gets elected, they will not be able to take Dodd’s power with them.”