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The Disaster In Connecticut: Blumenthal’s Vietnam Fibbing

The Democrats haven’t exactly rebounded to the point where they can withstand more implosions from some of their candidates, and so this tough story on Connecticut Senate front-runner Richard Blumenthal really stings.

At a ceremony honoring veterans and senior citizens who sent presents to soldiers overseas, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut rose and spoke of an earlier time in his life.

“We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” Mr. Blumenthal said to the group gathered in Norwalk in March 2008. “And you exemplify it. Whatever we think about the war, whatever we call it — Afghanistan or Iraq — we owe our military men and women unconditional support.”

There was one problem: Mr. Blumenthal, a Democrat now running for the United States Senate, never served in Vietnam. He obtained at least five military deferments from 1965 to 1970 and took repeated steps that enabled him to avoid going to war, according to records.

The deferments allowed Mr. Blumenthal to complete his studies at Harvard; pursue a graduate fellowship in England; serve as a special assistant to The Washington Post’s publisher, Katharine Graham; and ultimately take a job in the Nixon White House.

In 1970, with his last deferment in jeopardy, he landed a coveted spot in the Marine Reserve, which virtually guaranteed that he would not be sent to Vietnam. He joined a unit in Washington that conducted drills and other exercises and focused on local projects, like fixing a campground and organizing a Toys for Tots drive.

The above quote, which comes with video, is really the only time in the article Blumenthal explicitly says that he served in Vietnam, and he cops to it, claiming to have misspoke. In other public comments, he has explicitly said he did not serve overseas or used the phrase “I served during the Vietnam era.” The Times notes several instances of newspapers claiming that Blumenthal served in Vietnam where the Attorney General failed to correct the record.

Whether or not that will fly with the electorate, particularly the older electorate which normally comes out during a midterm, remains to be seen. Blumenthal has been a fixture in Connecticut politics for decades, and voters may have their minds made up about him to the extent that this won’t affect him. He’s holding a press event with veterans tomorrow, and plans to fire back at the allegations.

But there’s not a lot of time for Connecticut Democrats to feel this one out. After all, politicians have melted down over less than this. And Chris Bowers notes the timing:

The biggest problem of all is that the nominating convention to get on the ballot for the Democratic primary is this coming weekend. This story is still unfolding, so there is no way to have clear answers to either the two main questions (is the story true? does this finish Blumenthal with the voters?) by Friday. A second way to get on the ballot would be for someone to file 7,500 signatures by June 8th, which is doable but still tricky given the lack of any other campaign, the lack of clarity on the two main questions, the compressed timeframe, and the holiday weekend.

Connecticut has a deep Democratic bench, with five sitting members of the House, one of whom – Chris Murphy – is being groomed for a Senate run in 2012. But can one of them and Blumenthal come to an understanding in time? Or does Blumenthal, whose lead in the polls has been anywhere from 20-25 points, have the ability to withstand the fallout?

These are just terrible questions for Democrats to have to ask at this point.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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