Blumenthal Taking Heat For 'Misstatements'

Guests

Ken Rudin, political editor, NPR
John Dankosky, news director, WNPR in Hartford, Conn.

The fallout continues over Conn. candidate for Senate Richard Blumenthal's "misstatements" on his military record. His opponent, Linda McMahon, has said her campaign contributed to the New York Times investigation of Blumenthal's military service.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Joe Sestak could've worked for the White House. Linda McMahon did work with the New York Times, and the president and Senate Republicans got worked up on Capitol Hill. It's Wednesday and time for a...

Senator SAM BROWNBACK (Republican, Kansas): Testy.

CONAN: ...edition of the Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Former Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad. Wheres the beef?

Former Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Former Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Former Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But Im the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us for the latest in the world of politics. Another big week: Puerto Rico's part in the Idaho primary; a rare Republican win in Hawaii; Kentucky libertarians denounce Rand Paul as a turncoat; former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick gets a second term in prison; another sex scandal in South Carolina. Did the White House entice Joe Sestak? No surprises from the nominating convention in New York, but it's a smackdown in Connecticut. We'll focus on the Senate showdown in the Nutmeg State in a bit.

Later in the program: trains, planes, automobiles, bicycles and pedestrians with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. But first, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here, as he does every Wednesday. And as usual, we begin with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal, a busy day indeed. OK, this is a pretty easy one, but that's fine with me.

CONAN: OK.

RUDIN: People deserve a T-shirt this time. OK, in Idaho, yesterday's primary -I know you were up late for the Idaho primary yesterday.

CONAN: Absolutely.

RUDIN: Puerto Rican-born Raul Labrador, he retrieved get it? the GOP primary the GOP nomination in yesterday's primary. Easy question: Who you need both answers who was the first member of Congress born in Puerto Rico? Who was the most recent?

CONAN: So if you think you know the answer - the most recent member of Congress to be born in Puerto Rico, and the first member of Congress to be born in Puerto Rico - give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And of course, the winner gets a fabulous no-prize T-shirt; got to get them both.

So Ken, a trivia question for you. In which congressional district did the Tea Party candidate beat the Tea Party candidate yesterday and, come November, will face the Tea Party candidate?

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Well, that's exactly what happened in Idaho's 1st Congressional District yesterday. What happened, first of all, the Democratic incumbent there is a freshman by the name of Walt Minnick. Minnick upset a Republican conservative, a controversial Republican, two years ago, but he in his very Republican district has been perhaps the most conservative member of the Democratic Caucus.

And so and he had been endorsed by the Tea Party Express, the national Tea Party Express movement, that's Walt Minnick. In the Republican primary to beat him, there's a guy named Vaughn Ward, who - an Iraq War veteran, very conservative, endorsed by Sarah Palin. He was considered one of the top 10 guns of the National Republican...

CONAN: Young guns.

RUDIN: Young guns, right, of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Those are the top challengers around the country. But he had some mistakes. Like - for example, he would quote, plagiarize Barack Obama. He would say...

CONAN: A devastating ad that put his speech right next to Barack Obama's speech, word for word.

RUDIN: It was incredible. And another thing that embarrassed him, in a debate with Raul Labrador, who happened to have been born in Puerto Rico...

CONAN: Well, this question came up of, did he support statehood in Puerto Rico. It begins...

RUDIN: For Puerto Rico, right.

Mr. VAUGHN WARD (Former Republican Congressional Candidate, Idaho): And I don't care what state it is or what country it is that wants to become a part of America. It's not time. It's not going to be time. Let's focus on us first.

Mr. RAUL LABRADOR (Republican Congressional Candidate, Idaho): I just need to correct. Puerto Rico is not a country. Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. It's about time that we took some civics lesson and we learn what Puerto Rico is.

Mr. WARD: I really don't care what it is. I mean, it doesn't matter.

CONAN: And it did matter, apparently, in the polls because he finished second.

RUDIN: And so it looks like a clear Democratic, vulnerable incumbent who is still vulnerable. This is a very Republican area, but the Republicans kind of beat each other up in the primary, and Minnick has a shot, at least, of winning a second term.

CONAN: Let's report on one other place where there were votes cast since last we convened here on the Political Junkie, and that is in the state of Hawaii. And two Democrats faced off in a special election to replace Neil Abercrombie, who's running for governor, in Congress. And well, they split the vote.

RUDIN: Well, what happened, actually, all candidates in a special election all run on the same ballot. There were 14 candidates. Two of them two of whom were pretty high-ranking Democrats: former congressman Ed Case and the State Senate president, Colleen Hanabusa.

So both Democrats were on the race on the ballot. Democrats desperately wanted to get one or one of them off the race so they wouldn't split the Democratic vote. Charles Djou, who is a Honolulu city councilman, a Republican, won this seat.

Now, this is the district that President Obama was born in - actually, alleged to be born in because I haven't seen his birth certificate - but the rumor is that he was born in Hawaii. And the Republicans are claiming a big victory, first Republican to win a House seat there since 1988. Democrats will say, and they have said, that that's the only reason the Republicans won is because the Democrats split the vote.

CONAN: But?

RUDIN: And they'll win it back in November. But still, you know, it's unhorsing an incumbent is always tough in Congress, and the Democrats had an opportunity, and they blew it.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question. And again, given the part that Puerto Rico played in the Idaho primary, do you know the first member of Congress to be elected to the House of Representatives and indeed, the most recent person to be born in Puerto Rico to be elected to the House of Representatives: 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. We'll begin with Albert(ph), Albert with us from Lake Havasu in Arizona.

ALBERT (Caller): Hi, I'm going with Carlos Romero-Barcelo and Joe Raman(ph).

RUDIN: Well, the people you mentioned served as delegates in Puerto Rico, but they were not elected members of Congress. We're not talking about those, like Puerto Rico or the District of Columbia. We're talking among the top 50 states.

ALBERT: All right.

CONAN: The top 50 states, OK. Thanks very much, Albert, nice try. We'll go next to Paul(ph), Paul with us from Miami.

PAUL (Caller): Hi, this is Paul from Chicago and Miami. I think it's Luis Gutierrez.

RUDIN: Luis Gutierrez, from Chicago, was born in the city of Chicago. He is Puerto Rican, but he was born in Chicago, Illinois.

CONAN: Nice try, Paul. Let's see if we can go next this is Claude(ph), and Claude with us from Washington, D.C.

CLAUDE (Caller): How about Herman Badillo from New York, and Nydia Velazquez, (unintelligible) from New York.

RUDIN: And that is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: Herman Badillo, in 1970. It was like, a newly created district; he was the first Puerto Rican-born member of Congress. Nydia Velazquez, from Brooklyn, was first elected in 1992. Another Puerto Rican-born member was Jose Serrano of the Bronx, but he was elected to Congress in 1990. So you have the correct answer.

CONAN: So we'll put you on hold, Claude, and get your particulars and mail out a Political Junkie T-shirt with in return for the promise of taking a digital picture of yourself that we can post on our Wall of Shame.

CLAUDE: Yes, absolutely.

CONAN: All right. We'll put you on hold - and even found the right button.

RUDIN: Neal, do people actually send in their photos?

CONAN: Yes, they do.

RUDIN: OK.

CONAN: I'm afraid they do.

RUDIN: I mean, every time I look on the Wall of Shame, I see our picture there.

CONAN: Well, we're first, Ken.

RUDIN: I see.

CONAN: Anyway, let's see if we can go next to - well, the primary in Pennsylvania is over, but an issue lingers, and this is well before the primary. Joe Sestak, a congressman from Pennsylvania, a Democrat, was offered a job by the White House, allegedly. He could be secretary of the Navy if he would drop out and leave the field clear for Arlen Specter, the former Republican.

Sestak declined, eventually won the Democratic primary, but now the question continues: Did the White House well, here's how it came up on the Sunday talk shows. White House press secretary Joe Sestak was on "Meet the Press" and on CBS News's "Face the Nation." He was interviewed by Bob Schieffer.

RUDIN: Robert Gibbs, I'm sorry.

CONAN: No, first Sestak.

RUDIN: Oh, I'm sorry.

(Soundbite of television program, "Face the Nation")

Mr. BOB SCHIEFFER (Host, "Face the Nation"): Did the White House offer you a position in the administration if you would not run?

Representative JOE SESTAK (Democrat, Pennsylvania; U.S. Senate Candidate): Yeah, I was asked that question months after it happened, and I felt an obligation to answer it honestly, and I said yes.

Mr. SCHIEFFER: Can you tell us what job?

Rep. SESTAK: Bob, and then I said at the time, anything beyond that just gets into politics.

CONAN: And there is actually a federal law that says you're not supposed to intervene in a political race by offering enticements, like political jobs. Of course, it's been done a million times in the past but anyway, Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, was on the same program on CBS, and again talked with Bob Schieffer.

(Soundbite of television program, "Face the Nation")

Mr. SCHIEFFER: Improper or not, did you offer him a job in the administration?

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary): I'm not going to get further into what the conversations were. People that have looked into them assure me that they weren't inappropriate in any way.

CONAN: And Republicans are unhappy with taking the word of the White House, that they've had people look into it and that it's perfectly fine.

RUDIN: Well, I love what Robert Gibbs says: Whatever we did was legal, but I'm not telling you what did.

CONAN: If we did it.

RUDIN: If we did it, if it actually happened. Today, all seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee talking about politics I mean, they sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, urging the appointment of a special prosecutor to look into this.

Look, this very well may not be illegal. The thing is, this is an administration who promised the most transparent in history. They said that we don't do what, you know, the politics of usual of Washington. Yes, this has been done a million times and yes, both administrations, both parties do it. But again, you expect different from this administration, and thats what I think is why this has such legs.

Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate, has said that, look, this is the White House has to come clean on this.

CONAN: In New York, no surprises - for a change. The attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, has announced his candidacy to eventually be the eventual successor to his father, who served three terms as governor of the state of New York, and be the Democratic nominee for governor.

And a nominating convention today gave the nod both to their incumbent senators, Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer.

RUDIN: Well, had there been something called Republicans in New York, this would be an interesting story. But Charles Schumer, who has something like $22 million in the bank, has no Republican challenger that I can think of. Kirsten Gillibrand, who everybody thought was so vulnerable - she's being challenged by the left in her party, by Harold Ford in her party, by all these Republicans who were going to come forward, like Rudy Giuliani - as it turned out, the Republicans who are running are not big names. It seems like Schumer and Gillibrand are clear favorites for November, as is Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

CONAN: And the former mayor of Detroit, in a sad story, sentenced yesterday to five years in prison for violation of parole. He of course, you'll remember, Kwame Kilpatrick was caught on there were recordings of - his text messages to his what was it, chief of staff?

RUDIN: Yes.

CONAN: And then they...

RUDIN: An affair that they used city funds to cover up. Up to five years in prison was the sentence. What happened was part of his parole was the fact or part of his probation was that he was going to have to repay the pay the city $1 million, and he said, I have no money. And then they found out he has all this money stashed away. So this very irate judge proposed a sentence far more drastic than anybody expected, against Kilpatrick.

CONAN: And so he was immediately put in handcuffs and led away to as much as five years in prison there in Michigan.

When we come back from a short break, we're going to be focusing on the state of Connecticut, where Attorney General Richard Blumenthal faces former WWE Wrestling executive Linda McMahon. But boy, it's more complicated than that.

If you're a voter in Connecticut, what do you make of all of this? How has it affected how you might vote? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. It's Junkie day, TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

NPR political editor Ken Rudin is with us, as he is every Wednesday on the Political Junkie segment. You can read his blog, download his podcast and solve his ScuttleButton puzzle at NPR.org.

Earlier this year, long-serving Senator Christopher Dodd bowed to political reality in Connecticut and decided to retire. For months, it looked like the Nutmeg State's long-serving attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, was the odds-on favorite to succeed Dodd and keep the Senate seat in Democratic hands - until the New York Times dropped a political bombshell in a front-page story that quoted Blumenthal, claiming that he'd served in Vietnam, when he'd actually been a member of the Marine Corps Reserve and served all of his time in uniform stateside.

Last week, Blumenthal expressed his regret over the conflicting statements, but after criticism that the word regret was not strong enough, he said he was sorry for his mistake.

Mr. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (Democratic Senatorial Candidate, Connecticut): From the very outset, I expressed regret and took responsibility for words that should have been more precise and clear about my service in the United States Marine Corps Reserve.

CONAN: Also last week, during an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, Republican senatorial hopeful Linda McMahon acknowledged that she provided the Times with information for that story.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Sean Hannity Show")

Mr. SEAN HANNITY: And you had no role whatsoever in the New York Times breaking the story?

Ms. LINDA McMAHON (Republican Senatorial Candidate, Connecticut): No, our research - they, you know, they had initiated this story. We contributed some research, you know, to the story for the New York Times. But they initiated. They did the research. They did all the verification for it.

CONAN: Over the weekend, Connecticut Democrats overwhelmingly endorsed Blumenthal. Republicans set up what looked like a run-off between McMahon and a former congressman, but he's since bowed out. So Blumenthal-McMahon now. If you're a voter in Connecticut, what do you make of all of this? Has it affected how you might vote; 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining us now from member station in Hartford is John Dankosky, news director at WNPR, also host of their local talk show WHERE WE LIVE. And Dan, nice to have you with us.

RUDIN: John, John.

JOHN DANKOSKY: Thank you very much, Neal.

CONAN: You did that...

DANKOSKY: That's OK.

CONAN: You did that to me, Ken. He set me up for that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DANKOSKY: Hi, Ken.

CONAN: How is this story playing out there in Connecticut?

DANKOSKY: Well, it's interesting. It's almost like it's two different stories. The story here in Connecticut is clearly, some people are upset with Richard Blumenthal. They're glad that he made an apology, and some people wish he'd made an apology a little bit sooner.

But it's almost a different story when you read the national papers. It seems as though nationally, this is a story that's going to crush Dick Blumenthal and that Linda McMahon is going to roll right over him, and this is the end of his career. And around here, we've known Dick Blumenthal for a very long time.

I will say that my colleague here, Colin McEnroe, who hosts another talk show that comes on just before TALK OF THE NATION, he surveyed a bunch of reporters who have covered Blumenthal for years and year and years. And to a person, none of them said that Dick Blumenthal had made Vietnam service a part of his stump speech.

No one really thought that he was trying to claim that he spent time in Vietnam, that it was indeed, to many of these reporters' ears, a misstatement.

So Neal and Ken, it's almost as though the national media is making more of a deal of this than the Connecticut media is. And the people in Connecticut, while we hear some outrage, for the most part it's just a different story, it seems.

CONAN: Well, he was surrounded by veterans when he first responded to this story and did not go far enough, did not actually apologize in that first statement.

But in any case, the Times then ran an interview with Chris Shays, the Republican congressman from Connecticut, an old friend of Dick Blumenthal's, who said wait a minute, I'd heard this creeping into his story from time to time. I now regret not calling him out on this personally and maybe putting a stop to it.

DANKOSKY: Yeah, I'll also say that some people who know both men have suggested to me that, you know how sometimes politicians call themselves friends when they're not really friends? And this happens all the time, including on the floor of the Senate. And how close of friends those two guys were beforehand, I'm not really sure. I'm not sure that Dick Blumenthal had Chris Shays over a lot to dinner, and I'm sure he's not going to have him over much anymore now.

CONAN: I don't think he can expect a Thanksgiving invitation. Ken?

RUDIN: John, but the point is not whether that Chris Shays and Dick Blumenthal were good friends or not. The point is, Chris Shays has never been known as a Republican partisan, somebody who plays these kind of games, and he said he's heard it over and over again.

And so when Dick Blumenthal says that - how dare you impugn my record on veterans - that's not what anybody's impugning. They're impugning they're questioning his honesty when he's said this over and over again. And he didn't correct the record, even when people wrote about his service in Vietnam, until this week.

DANKOSKY: I think that the honesty - honestly, Ken - is in question. The fact is that he hasn't strongly enough come out and made clear what it was he was trying to say. He has obviously misstated things, as he would put it, over the course of years. Many people have probably heard him say stuff like this.

But as I say, almost all the people in the press corps, the people who I deal with - I've covered Dick Blumenthal for 16 years - I never believed once that he was trying to sell me a story that he was walking through rice paddies in Vietnam at that time.

As you go back and you watch these videos, it does seem pretty clear that a guy who is most of the time pretty careful with his words was being very careless with his words, or he was carefully trying to make a point that he had service that he didn't.

That being said, most of the people who spend a lot of time around him - that I know - in the press, haven't really heard a drumbeat over time that Dick Blumenthal is trying to sell a Vietnam tale.

CONAN: And they will hear a drumbeat, however. There's already an ad that's been produced by the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, just out, that has well, you're going to hear it. It's a TV ad, but there's a montage of disgraced Democrats they could have picked any number of Republicans, too. They happened, being the Republican committee, to pick disgraced Democrats from Eliot Spitzer to Rod Blagojevich here at the top of the ad. It's called "Just Another Lying Politician."

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Mr. ELIOT SPITZER (Former New York Governor, Democrat): I have begun to atone for my private failings. I am deeply sorry that I did not live up to what was expected of me.

Mr. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Former Illinois Governor, Democrat): I have never abused my office.

Unidentified Man #1: I expect you to expel me.

Unidentified Man #2: I am absolutely innocent.

Unidentified Man #3: I am asking her to grant me a leave of absence.

Unidentified Man #4: To ask for assistance raising money for his brother, then-Governor Blagojevich.

BLAGOJEVICH: I have done nothing wrong.

Mr. BLUMENTHAL: We have learned something very important since the days that I served in Vietnam.

I have misspoken about my service. A few misplaced words, "in" instead of "during."

Mr. CHRIS MATTHEWS (MSNBC): He lied, a direct, hundred-percent lie. I would never have anything to do with anybody if it helps this guy become a senator because he may be have a real problem with character and the truth.

CONAN: And that last voice, Chris Matthews, not identified. But John, after this ad is played a few times, and Linda McMahon, no shortage of money in her campaign she has $50 million of her own money she's ready to spend. She may run that ad or similar ones. That is going to be a drumbeat.

DANKOSKY: Well, absolutely, and the fact is that since the start of the Linda McMahon campaign, the number that we've all been kicking around here is $50 million. She dropped that number early on and said, I'm willing to spend 50 million of my own dollars on ads just like this one.

And the fact is that when Dick Blumenthal or anybody else gives her the opportunity to run an ad over and over and over again with his own words, she'll be able to spend the money and do it.

I'll say, you know, we have a Vietnam veteran who just got out of the race, Rob Simmons, who was running for the Republican nomination against her. He lost in the convention, and he decided he couldn't go forward, in part because he said she's already spent $16 million against me just before we get to a primary. I can't keep up.

Dick Blumenthal, while he has some pretty deep pockets himself, and while he has a lot of ability to raise money around the country - I don't know if he can keep up with that.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. Let's go to Chris(ph), and Chris calling us from West Hartford.

CHRIS (Caller): Hi. I think that as John kind of talks about, Dick Blumenthal, with 25 years of public service, 20 years as attorney general, taking down genuine bad guys, you know, corrupt bankers, health insurers who, you know, weren't giving coverage to people in accordance to contracts, and a whole host of other malfeasors(ph), has a strong reputation as a do-gooder who goes forward without fear or favor, and who is anything but corrupt.

I think that yes, he's human, yes he made some misstatements. I think that Maureen Dowd probably has the right take on his misstatements, that he gets in front of a group of veterans who did serve in, you know, in Vietnam and put their lives on the line, unlike him - as he said, he was behind a desk during that time - and he kind of wishes he were like them in that respect, to have been over there.

But you know, that makes him human. That does not make him a liar or a corrupt human being...

CONAN: Do you think it's going to hurt him in the campaign, Chris?

CHRIS: I think it'll hurt him with a few voters. I think that the Rasmussen poll is overstated. Scott Rasmussen is a Republican partisan, and he you know, if you look at fivethirtyeight.com, pollster.com and others who critique polls, his model clearly is weighted heavily towards Republicans, and he...

CONAN: John Dankosky, can you help us out here?

DANKOSKY: Well, and maybe I can fill you in. I mean, the Rasmussen poll almost was an instant poll that came out right after this story broke, and it basically had drawn the two almost in a dead heat. Linda McMahon, who'd been trailing Dick Blumenthal since the very start.

Now, we're waiting for a poll - all of us here in Connecticut who watch these things - the Quinnipiac poll, which is really the poll of record here in Connecticut, is expected to drop tomorrow. And the latest results in both the Senate race and the governor's race here in Connecticut, we'll find out an awful lot more about what the people of Connecticut are thinking about this tomorrow.

CONAN: OK, Chris, thanks for the call. Go ahead, Ken.

RUDIN: And just one thing about what Chris said. Yes, Blumenthal does have an exemplary record. He's done good things. And Eliot Spitzer fought, you know, corruption in - on Wall Street as well. But he also had his own peccadilloes that voters had to weigh when making a decision.

CONAN: Let's see if we can - go ahead, John.

DANKOSKY: I just want to say quickly, too - and in case you guys haven't seen this - the one thing that really - you know you've arrived with a real faux pas whenever Joe Biden is making fun of you. Have you seen this today in The Hill? Joe Biden actually took an unexpected dig at Blumenthal today for misstating his military service record. He said, and I didn't serve in Vietnam. I don't want to make a Blumenthal mistake here.

CONAN: Ooh.

DANKOSKY: He said, according to a poll report, our attorney general from Connecticut, God love him, and later on he said, of course, as you both know, I have a bad habit of saying exactly what I think. So whenever you're a punchline in a Joe Biden speech, you know that it has, indeed, got some legs.

CONAN: Let's go next to Andy(ph), Andy with us from New London.

ANDY (Caller): Yes, sir.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

ANDY: I was in the military at the same time, and I did not serve in Vietnam. But politicians - he's a politician. I don't think he's going by what people from the military consider to be doing an honorable thing. It is dishonorable to take credit for something you didn't do. And too many people from our generation fought and died, and came back crippled from that war. For someone to use it for his own political gain, I'm not going to vote for him.

CONAN: Would you have...

ANDY: I'm going to - I'm sorry. I would have before but not now.

CONAN: All right. Andy, thanks very much. Well, before we finish here, there is another candidate in this race. That's Linda McMahon, who would have been expected to be the focus of much attention - a colorful person who's got no previous political experience and, of course, is married to Vince McMahon, the WWE grandee. And she, of course, served as CEO of that corporation and said, well, now we've got a smackdown in Connecticut.

DANKOSKY: Well, she likes using the smackdown terminology almost as much as Arnold Schwarzenegger likes using this sort of girly man terminology. She loves to talk about wrestling terms, and this is right in her wheelhouse, right? She's able to make a show of something like this. I will say that what this has done for a lot of people in Connecticut is, it's taken the eye off a slightly different ball.

The McMahon campaign has been dogged with criticism about the WWE and its steroid policy, a number of wrestlers who've died on WWE watch over the years while she was CEO. And there are certainly people looking into that, but nothing that has happened during the campaign that has looked at the McMahon campaign has certainly even come close to the amount of scrutiny that's happened in this Blumenthal thing over the last week.

CONAN: And John Dankosky, do you think that the Blumenthal campaign would be well-served to put out an ad of their own that directly addresses this? There's a quote from that same speech earlier where he said, I served during the Vietnam War.

DANKOSKY: Well - and that's a very good point. That came out the next day. It's honestly softened the blow a little bit because the New York Times piece, when it was released, it only had a snippet of this, and you only heard him serving in Vietnam. You didn't hear the beginning of the speech, where he clearly says that he didn't serve in Vietnam. That came out a day after this Times story, and that's kind of what I mean when I say that it's played out differently here in Connecticut. A lot of people in Connecticut saw that, and it did soften the blow for him. Whether or not he uses that in a speech, or whether or not he just keeps to his guns and says, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. It remains to be seen.

I'll just say this. I've dealt with Dick Blumenthal for a long time. He's pretty good at staying on message. If he wants to just say, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, he'll say it 150,000 times because that's what he does. He stays on message - especially after this.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: But John, the key here is that this is not one speech we're talking about. It is one videotape we have, and we keep talking about that to death. But as Chris Shays said, this is not a one-time-only instance. It's happened over and over.

DANKOSKY: Yeah, absolutely. And I don't doubt that that's what Chris Shays said. And I haven't seen enough other evidence of that to be able to judge for myself. I know some people really believe that he said this willy-nilly. I know like the veteran we just heard from, a lot of people honestly are mad, and I think it's going to draw this race closer, Ken. I have no doubt it's going to have a big impact. As of a couple of weeks ago, Dick Blumenthal had a pretty commanding lead over Linda McMahon. That's going to be a smaller lead. Whether or not that costs him the race, I don't know.

CONAN: John Dankosky who is with WNPR, our member station in Hartford. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And one last call from Connecticut. This is Paul(ph), Paul with us from Stonington.

PAUL (Caller): Yes, good afternoon, Neal. How are you?

CONAN: I'm well. Thanks.

PAUL: I live in Stonington, Connecticut, which is the hometown of Rob Simmons -who almost received the public nomination in lieu of Linda McMahon. And your screener asked me who I would vote for and why, and the answer is Linda McMahon. And I think, personally, the results of the election more than likely will not be changed. I think Dick Blumenthal may squeak this out. But prior to this incident, I think Dick Blumenthal would have won by perhaps 10 percentage points. And I think now, the election will be won within the margin of error.

CONAN: Paul, I think you maybe the Political Junkie of Stonington. I think that's a pretty astute analysis. Thanks very much for the phone call. And John Dankosky, we'll await that Quinnipiac poll tomorrow. We appreciate your time today, too.

DANKOSKY: Oh, no problem at all. Thanks very much.

CONAN: John Dankosky, news director at WNPR, our member station there at Connecticut Public Radio in Hartford.

Ken, a couple of things we didn't get to earlier. South Carolina, of course, Mark Sanford is limping out his last days as a - as governor of South Carolina after the political scandal that seemed - ruined his political future. The leading candidate to replace him in the Republican primary - now allegations about her.

RUDIN: Well, Nikki Haley went - she's a state representative. She was early endorsed by Jenny Sanford, who may be the most popular person in South Carolina. She's the aggrieved and former wife of Mark Sanford. She's also endorsed by Sarah Palin and some Tea Party folks. But now a blogger, a former communications director for Mark Sanford, has come forward, said he had an inappropriate physical relationship with Nikki Haley three years ago. She denies it completely. She said, this is typical of what the male establishment is doing to me, who have now - who has taken over in the polls. And so she denies it. But, obviously, this has changed a lot of things in the primary of June 8th.

CONAN: He says he's going to document this. That has yet to happen. In the state of Washington, Patty Murray, the Democrat incumbent up for re-election, and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi now in the race.

RUDIN: Right. He announced today. Patty Murray was never on anybody's vulnerable - list of vulnerable senators, and she probably still is heavily favored. But now, it's competitive. Dino Rossi, when he ran for governor in 2004, lost by 129 votes out of 2.8 million cast. He ran again in 2008 and lost pretty badly - by 200,000 votes - but again, he has announced his candidacy. A slam dunk for Patty Murray is now at least competitive.

CONAN: Only Idaho yesterday - but boy, the next couple of weeks are pretty busy.

RUDIN: Right. Big ones on June 1st and June 8th - big one's on June 1st. Artur Davis, the congressman in Alabama, is trying to become the first African-American governor of Alabama. There's also Mississippi and New Mexico next week. And then on June 8th, we have California, big primaries for the governor and senator. Nevada: Republicans trying to get a nominee against Harry Reid. And South Carolina, as I mentioned - and also the Arkansas Senate run-off with Blanche Lincoln and Bill Halter.

CONAN: So plenty to do on the Political Junkie. Join us again next Wednesday. Ken Rudin will be with us. As always, Ken, thanks for your time.

RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Coming up, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood wants to promote bicycles and pedestrians to the same priority as automobiles when it comes to divvying up federal dollars. He'll explain when he joins us next. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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