Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Democratic Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut's attorney general, tells a press conference Tuesday he had "misspoken" in claiming more than once that he served in Vietnam.
Democratic Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut's attorney general, tells a press conference Tuesday he had "misspoken" in claiming more than once that he served in Vietnam. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal said he had "misspoken" in claiming more than once that he served in Vietnam, dismissing the furor that threatened to endanger a seemingly safe Democratic seat as a matter of "a few misplaced words."
The Connecticut attorney general served in the Marine Reserve during the Vietnam War, but he never left the United States. Standing with other Marine Corps veterans at a news conference in West Hartford, Conn., on Tuesday, Blumenthal said he was proud of his record and that he meant to say he served "during Vietnam" and not "in Vietnam."
"On a few occasions, I have misspoken about my service and I regret that. I take full responsibility," Blumenthal said. "But I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country."
He said the statements were "totally unintentional" errors that occurred only a few times out of hundreds of public appearances.
The campaign crisis erupted after The New York Times reported Monday that Blumenthal had distorted his military service. The story included quotes and a video of Blumenthal saying at a 2008 event that he had "served in Vietnam." It also cited several instances of media reports — apparently uncorrected by Blumenthal — that described him as a Vietnam veteran.
Blumenthal underwent six months in Marine boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., and served six years in the Marine Reserve, beginning in 1970, none of it overseas. Before that, Blumenthal got five deferments to avoid going to war between 1965 and 1970.
Blumenthal is widely known for his dedication to veterans issues and has spoken at hundreds of events, many times about the mistreatment veterans received after returning from Vietnam.
The Times story said Blumenthal has intimated that he suffered the mistreatment veterans received after returning from Vietnam. At a veterans event in Shelton, for example, he said, "When we returned from Vietnam, I remember the taunts, the verbal and even physical abuse we encountered," according to a 2008 Connecticut Post story.
The misstatements persisted for years even though Blumenthal is known to pore over press clips and call reporters to clarify or correct points.
Blumenthal was considered the front-runner in the race to succeed Sen. Chris Dodd in Connecticut, but his stumble is being pounced upon by his Republican and Democratic opponents.
Veterans who stood behind him on a podium at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post Tuesday said his commitment was without question.
"I'm here today because I couldn't let these malicious, deceptive charges against my good friend Dick go unanswered," said Peter Galgano, spokesman for the Marine Corps League of Connecticut.
Galgano, of Berlin, said he had seen Blumenthal speak at dozens of veterans events and was always "completely straightforward about his honorable service" in the reserves.
One of Blumenthal's Republican opponents, former wrestling executive Linda McMahon, took credit for giving video of the Norwalk event to the Times after more than two months of "deep, persistent" research.
"This is what comes of $16 million, a crack opposition research operation and an opponent who, in the words of the president Blumenthal worked for on a draft deferment, who gave them the sword," her campaign said.
The wording was later removed from the website.
The Times refused to comment on its sources, saying the story spoke for itself.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said it was not surprised McMahon's campaign "cherry-picked" the quotes "considering all of the debauchery at the WWF under her watch."
Another Republican opponent, former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, a Vietnam veteran, said Tuesday he had known Blumenthal for years and had not heard him make misstatements. However, he said, "he owes an apology to those whose service he has undeservedly capitalized on for his own political purposes."
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.
In Washington, neither Republican nor Democratic leaders viewed the report as a so-called game changer.
Public polling in recent days shows Blumenthal leading his GOP challengers in hypothetical head-to-head matchups by 30 to 40 percentage points. Democrats didn't expect Blumenthal to abandon his bid and, at this point, weren't urging him to do so.
Nonetheless, Democrats and Republicans in Washington watched the developments in Connecticut closely, mindful that Connecticut could be the tipping point in the GOP's quest to regain power in the Senate.
The GOP needs to gain 10 seats to take control. In an election-year environment that's tough for Democrats, Republicans hope to hang on to all the seats they control while picking up 10 Democratic-held seats.
Given the stakes, Democrats moved to stunt the damage quickly.
Blumenthal surrounded himself with veterans at his news conference, while Democrats in Washington circulated videos showing the candidate being upfront about his Vietnam service even as they geared up to go after McMahon.
Republicans, in turn, suggested that Blumenthal had a credibility issue at a time when voters were craving politicians who talked straight, even as they acknowledged that McMahon's apparent role in the report could hurt her.
Blumenthal, at times, has been careful with the portrayal of his service.
In January, shortly after he entered the U.S. Senate race, Blumenthal appeared on WFSB-TV 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.