Democrat Richard Blumenthal's campaign said a newspaper report questioning his Vietnam-era military service was an "outrageous distortion," a development that undercut his Senate candidacy and gave hope to Republicans pursuing the Connecticut seat.
Blumenthal, who was easily leading a pack of Senate candidates in a recent poll, is planning a Tuesday afternoon news conference at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in West Hartford to respond to the New York Times story, which said Blumenthal said at a 2008 event that he had served "in Vietnam."
He told the newspaper that he has always tried to make it clear his Marine Reserve service never took him overseas. His campaign called the report an "outrageous distortion" of his record.
The newspaper's report comes five months before an election in which Republicans hope to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats.
Democrats control 57 seats in the Senate and two independents caucus with the party. The GOP must pick up 10 seats this fall to establish a majority, a goal that could be easier to attain if the traditionally Democratic seat sought by Blumenthal is in play.
Blumenthal, a popular statewide elected official, got into the race after veteran Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd opted to retire in the face of polls showing he would have a hard time holding the seat.
Blumenthal told the Times he had misspoken at the 2008 event in Norfolk in which he said he served in Vietnam.
The misstatements appear out of character for a politician who is generally careful with his speech, even calling reporters after events to correct or clarify points.
In January, shortly after he entered the U.S. Senate race, Blumenthal appeared on WFSB-TV's Face the State and was asked about his service "in the Marines" and whether he supported the troop surge in Afghanistan. Blumenthal said he did support the president's plans for additional troops and made it a point to say, "I served in the United States Marine Corps Reserve, and proudly." He went on to talk about how his son's commissioning ceremony at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., was "one of the proudest moments of my life."
In a televised March debate, Blumenthal stated clearly he had not actually served in Vietnam during the conflict when asked a question about using military force in Iran.
Questions about Blumenthal's military service come just days before Connecticut Democrats meet at their party convention on Friday night to endorse a candidate. Blumenthal is facing a challenge for the nomination from Mystic businessman Merrick Alpert, but is expected to easily win the party's endorsement.
His Republican opponents pounced on the news.
"It's very clear to us, over the past few weeks and months as we've begun to research Mr. Blumenthal in earnest, there are some deeply troubling discrepancies between the image he's portrayed publicly and the truth," said Ed Patru, a spokesman for former wrestling executive Linda McMahon, who is seeking the GOP nomination.
The Senate campaign of Republican former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, a Vietnam veteran, said in statement Tuesday that the "stunning revelation" about Blumenthal is raising questions about the viability of his candidacy and may make "this the race that could deliver a Republican Senate majority."
Simmons' campaign said he served 19 months in Vietnam with the Army, earned two Bronze Stars and "has never needed to pad his resume."