Nutmegged! Can Dodd and Lieberman Survive?

Both of Connecticut's U.S. senators were greeted with ominous new poll numbers on Tuesday. The new Quinnipiac University survey showed Chris Dodd, a senator's son who first won election to the upper chamber in 1980, scoring his lowest ever marks and Joe Lieberman trailing by a whopping 28 points in a re-election trial heat.

But while Dodd must face the voters two years before Lieberman (whose seat isn't up until 2012), it's the Democrat-turned-independent who probably has more to worry about, and to mull over.

Dodd's situation probably looks a lot worse than it actually is. The Quinnipiac poll gives him a negative job approval rating (41 percent approve/48 disapprove), marking yet another decline in his once-sterling numbers. Two months ago, he enjoyed a positive approval rating, 47 to 41 percent, and last July the spread was a healthy 17 points, 51 to 34 percent. At his all-time peak, back in early 2001, Dodd sported a 71/16 approval mark.

The culprit is obvious: the nagging saga of Dodd's mortgage dealings with Countrywide Financial, which were first reported last June. The suggestion was that Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, received a sweetheart deal reserved for "friends" of the company's chairman. But only this week, nearly eight months after the story broke, did Dodd provide the media with documentation to substantiate his claims of innocence.

The scandal's durability, especially in light of the housing market collapse that helped plunge the country into a recession, has made Dodd supremely vulnerable to political attacks. By a 54 to 24 percent margin, respondents told Quinnipiac pollsters that they weren't satisfied with Dodd's mortgage explanation (the poll was taken before he granted the media access to his records on Monday); 56 percent said they were less likely to vote for him because of it. And most damningly, 51 percent said they would "definitely" or "probably" not vote to re-elect Dodd next year.

And yet, there is good news for Dodd.

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