Vietnam service claimed by Conn. Senate hopeful Blumenthal is challenged

By Chris Cillizza
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The New York Times reported Monday night that Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has claimed numerous times that he served in Vietnam, even though he obtained at least five military deferments and avoided ever going to war.

Blumenthal (D) is a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Christopher J. Dodd (D), and he has held a commanding lead in the race since he entered it. But the Times report has the potential to fundamentally reshape the contest in the Nutmeg State.

His campaign manager, Mindy Myers, called the article "an outrageous distortion of Dick Blumenthal's record of service." She noted his six years of service in the Marine Corps Reserve and said he "received no special treatment from anyone."

The Times reported that Blumenthal obtained deferments from 1965 to 1970, then joined the Marine Reserve in 1970 and was based in Washington through the end of the war. The newspaper said that the deferments allowed him to finish a degree at Harvard and serve as an assistant to The Washington Post's publisher, Katharine Graham.

Blumenthal told the Times on Monday that he misspoke about his service at a 2008 event and might have misspoken at other times. "My intention has always been to be completely clear and accurate and straightforward, out of respect to the veterans who served in Vietnam," he said.

Eric Schultz, communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, blamed Republicans for the report. In particular, he pointed at former World Wrestling Entertainment executive Linda McMahon, one of several Republicans running for the seat.

"It's no surprise Republicans would want to smear Dick Blumenthal," Schultz said.

Ed Patru, a spokesman for McMahon, responded, "It's become increasingly clear to us over the past weeks and months, as we've researched Mr. Blumenthal, that there are some very troubling discrepancies between what he's been saying and the truth."

Blumenthal has served as the state's top cop since 1988, and national Democrats spent months ensuring that he was ready to run if and when Dodd decided not to seek reelection.

When Blumenthal entered the race, his poll numbers were stratospheric: He held massive leads over McMahon and Rob Simmons, a former congressman. Even as Democrats celebrated, however, some warned that Blumenthal had not been tested in a serious campaign in more than two decades and that once punched -- as he inevitably would be in a high-profile race like this one -- he would collapse.

"He's popular, but for no particular reason," said one senior Democratic strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid. "No one really knows him, and this fills in the blanks in a pretty devastating way."

The strategist added that Connecticut remains strongly Democratic, but he acknowledged, "It's a race now."

Blumenthal faces only nominal primary opposition, although the state's filing deadline isn't for another week.

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