Rell and Dodd on the retirement train

Gov. M. Jodi Rell came to work today on the 8:38 a.m. Amtrak out of New Haven, commuting with Connecticut’s other high-profile lame duck, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd.

They shared a car with the U.S. transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, and other VIPs from Massachusetts and Connecticut to talk about federal dollars for high-speed rail from New Haven to Springfield.

Despite the shared commute today, the Republican governor and Democratic senator seem to be traveling on different tracks to retirement in eight months.

(UPDATE: LaHood says state “has its act together.”)

rell greets visitor 4-26-10

Popular, but under pressure: Gov. M. Jodi Rell greets a Chinese businessman at a conference (Mark Pazniokas)

The more popular of the two, Rell is facing the more difficult final act, even though her retirement announcement came on her own terms. As she struggles to control an agenda in Hartford, Rell is coming under harsh criticism from would-be successors.

Dodd sits far lower in the polls and was under pressure not to run again, but he has faded as a political target of Republican contenders for the Senate, who are more focused on each other than trashing the Dodd record.

And while politicians in Hartford quietly debate Rell’s relevance as the legislature limps toward its May 5 adjournment, Dodd is without question a player in Washington.

Dodd played a major role in the passage of heath-care reform, and he is leading an effort to overhaul the regulation of Wall Street.

Today, Dodd and Rell have a common agenda in a day of meetings that include photo opportunities of them boarding a train in New Haven and disembarking at Union Station in Hartford, down the hill from the State Capitol.

Aside from promoting high-speed rail, the senator and governor have an opportunity to reverse a shared embarrassment: Connecticut being one of only 10 states shut out of the first round of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants, the so-called TIGER grants.

“It is a rebound,” said Rep. David McCluskey, D-West Hartford, who was sharply critical of the Rell administration after the first-round failure. “I don’t think LaHood is coming here for his health.”

Also scheduled to be on board were three ranking U.S. House Democrats who live along the rail corridor: John B. Larson of East Hartford, Rosa L. DeLauro of New Haven and Richard Neal of Springfield.

Neal, a former mayor of Springfield, has been mentioned as a possible successor to Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York, as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Larson and DeLauro are members of the House leadership.

The top transportation officials of Connecticut and Massachusetts, DOT Commissioner Joe Marie and Transportation Secretary Jeff Mullan, also will attend to push one of the projects sought by the New England Rail Coalition.

Rell, Dodd and other elected officials, including state legislative leaders, are to meet privately at the State Capitol, then hold a press conference.

The meeting follows a week in which Rell appeared to back off from two confrontations over judges.

On Monday, the Rell administration gave up on the troubled judicial nomination of Brian Leslie. Legislators said they had repeatedly told administration officials that Leslie could not be confirmed.

On Thursday, the administration signed off on an agreement with the judicial department on a budget deal. Without the agreement, legislators were prepared to block Rell’s last batch of judicial nominations.

Outside the Capitol, Rell remains one of the state’s most popular politicians.

After speaking Thursday to at the Small Business Innovation Research conference at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, Rell was repeatedly interrupted by people who wanted to pose with her for a picture.

She accommodated all requests.

“In February, they won’t know who I am,” she said, laughing.

Rell has been accused of being disengaged by candidates for governor, she made clear she is following the race and hearing the criticism.

“When they have good ideas and they can come up with them and verbalize them and share them with the rest of the state, then they have a right to complain and point fingers,” Rell said. “Until then, I think we’ll just take it as a politics as usual.”