Richard Blumenthal Vietnam ‘misstatements’: How damaging?

Richard Blumenthal, front-runner in the Connecticut race for US Senate, said he served 'in Vietnam.' He didn't, and the 'misstatements' hurt his poll numbers. But opponents are tripping up, too.

Jessica Hill/AP
Connecticut Attorney General and Democratic candidate for US Senate Richard Blumenthal pauses as he addresses a report that he has made misstatements his military service during the Vietnam War at a news conference in West Hartford, Conn., Tuesday.

Richard Blumenthal now has a tight political race on his hands.

Until this week, the Democratic attorney general of Connecticut was favored to succeed Christopher Dodd (D) in the Senate. But when The New York Times published evidence – video included – that Mr. Blumenthal had erroneously claimed military service in Vietnam, the calculus changed.

The latest Rasmussen Poll shows him beating the strongest GOP contender, wealthy businesswoman Linda McMahon, by only 3 points, down from the double-digit leads he used to hold.

Since the initial New York Times story was published, more examples of Blumenthal “misstatements” have come to light, in which he talks about his service “in Vietnam,” instead of service “during the Vietnam War.”

The difference is important: Blumenthal in fact never did serve in Vietnam, but was in the Marine Corps Reserves stateside, after receiving at least five deferments, according to the Times.

The Democratic reaction has been central to his survival thus far. The party is rallying around Blumenthal, blaming The New York Times for playing “gotcha” and for showing only part of the videotape in which Blumenthal claims Vietnam service. Defenders also point to examples of Blumenthal saying explicitly that he did not serve in Vietnam.

Ms. McMahon’s acknowledgment to the media that her campaign gave the story to the Times has temporarily diverted attention from the main issue.

In fact, analysts blame first-time candidate McMahon for committing a rookie mistake in making that admission, as it spawned discussion about how the Times got its story and put focus on the McMahon campaign – not where a candidate wants to be when the other party’s top guy is on his heels.

But with the revelation of more misstatements, discussion is back on Blumenthal, and speculation as to just how damaged he is.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report has moved the race from “lean Democratic” to “tossup.” For now, it would appear, Blumenthal’s campaign has not completely imploded. At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Blumenthal admitted past misstatements, but said he was not aware that his “misplaced words” had appeared in print. He did not admit to lying, and in the face of the evidence, some analysts say he has not really come clean.

Before the flap erupted, the Harvard- and Yale-educated Blumenthal had a squeaky clean image, high popularity in Connecticut, and a lot of political capital to burn. Now he seems to have burned quite a bit. But as long as his party sticks by him, and no more bombshells explode, it seems assured that he will at least get his party’s nomination.

Beyond that, the race could go anywhere. McMahon, former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, is duking it out in the Republican primary with former Rep. Rob Simmons (R) of Connecticut.

At first, Mr. Simmons seemed the ideal challenger – a moderate Republican in a part of the country that still appreciates moderation. But in this “tea party” energized election cycle, McMahon’s profile as a conservative outsider willing to spend a lot of her own money has moved her ahead of Simmons. A third candidate, businessman Peter Schiff, trails the other two Republicans badly in primary polls.


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