Major shake-up in CT Senate race

The fit has hit the shan:

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.

His campaign responded last night that the NYT story was “full of inaccuracies.” Blumenthal plans to hold a presser where he will be “flanked by veterans” later today.

So who is taking credit for being the Times’ tipster? Linda McMahon, who is running for the GOP nomination to replace Senator Chris Dodd in the US Senate:

Pulling back the curtain on journalistic sausage-making usually hidden from voters, a Republican Senate candidate is taking credit for the front-page New York Times story accusing Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of “plainly untrue” remarks about Vietnam service.

But a New York Times spokeswoman said: “[A]nyone reading it can tell that it was the product of extensive independent reporting — including our FOIA of his military records.”

The campaign of World Wrestling Entertainment co-founder Linda McMahon, who is seeking the Republican nomination to run against Blumenthal, is doing little to discourage suggestions it provided the sort of opposition research to The Times that is known around campaigns as an “oppo dump.”

Shawn McCoy, a McMahon spokesman, told POLITICO: “As we have researched Dick Blumenthal’s record, we’ve discovered some very troubling disparities between what he’s said and the facts. This is a serious blow to his credibility.”

Oddly enough, a post from McMahon’s website taking credit for the NYT story has been pulled.

And interestingly enough, her chief GOP primary opponent, Rob Simmons, actually is a Vietnam veteran:

Simmons wants to become Connecticut’s next U.S. senator, too. But two frontrunners have been in his way: Blumenthal, the likely Democratic nominee; and Linda McMahon, the self-financed multimillionaire battling with Simmons for the Republican nomination.

Not only does the revelation soften up Blumenthal […].

But like Richard Blumenthal, Linda McMahon, while familiar with the pretend battles of the World Wrestling Entertainment ring, never served in Vietnam, either.

Rob Simmons did. In a big way. In a role that will never endear himself to liberals—he was a spy, a special operations specialist. But in a role he has openly championed to set himself apart from his opponents as the one candidate with a handle on how to deal with foreign policy challenges in the 21st century.

[…]

Simmons also won two Bronze Stars in Vietnam. He served 19 months.

Mere moments after the Times expose hit the web Monday night, the Simmons campaign issued a one-paragraph statement. It read:

“As someone who served, I respect Richard Blumenthal for wearing the uniform, but I am deeply troubled by allegations that he has misrepresented his service. Too many have sacrificed too much to have their valor stolen in this way. I hope Mr. Blumenthal steps forward and forthrightly addresses the questions that have arisen about this matter.”

Blumenthal has long been thought to be the “sure thing” candidate – sort of like Martha Coakley was in MA:

Blumenthal, who has served as the state’s top cop since 1988, has held a commanding lead in the open seat Senate race since he entered it. National Democrats spent months ensuring that the popular politician was ready to run if and when embattled Sen. Chris Dodd (D) decided not to seek re-election.

When Blumenthal entered the race, his poll numbers were stratospheric — he held massive leads over McMahon and Simmons — and Democrats insisted that they had saved a seat and, in so doing, squashed any talk of Republicans picking up the majority this fall.

Even amidst that celebration, however, there were some Democrats who 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.

The Times story would seem to affirm the fears from those Democrats that Blumenthal was not the candidate he was cracked up to be.

“He’s popular, but for no particular reason,” said one senior Democratic strategist. “No one really knows him, and this fills in the blanks in a pretty devastating way.” The strategist added that Connecticut remains strongly Democratic, which works in Blumenthal’s favor but acknowledged: “It’s a race now.”

Ed Morrissey provides an intriguing take:

The Times may get some questions over this claim. Did they take a story fed to them by a campaign, or did they independently discover Blumenthal’s fabrications? Did they use McMahon’s tip and conduct their own investigation? Or did McMahon’s campaign actually find this themselves, as they claim? Ironically, the damage done to Blumenthal makes Rob Simmons — a highly decorated actual Vietnam veteran — the biggest beneficiary of this bombshell. It will highlight his military service and make him all the more desirable in the aftermath of the scandal.

The Democrats have a very short period of time to find a new candidate, if Blumenthal does the expected and retires from politics. Looking at the calendar, it appears that Democrats only have until May 25th — a week from now — to formally endorse their candidate for Senate, and June 8th to certify the nomination. The problem for Democrats is that they don’t have any other statewide constitutional officeholders that can quickly fill Blumenthal’s shoes. The highest-profile Democratic officeholders in Connecticut are in Congress, and those aren’t exactly riding a wave of popularity. If Democrats try to run a sitting House member in this election cycle, they can kiss the seat goodbye.

This means that a GOP takeover of the Senate suddenly becomes possible again, if still unlikely. It’s the tenth Democratic seat that becomes legitimately in play. If Democrats can’t find a candidate in the next few hours, they may wind up losing both chambers of Congress.

How delicious.

As they say, stay tuned …

Comments are closed.