May 18 (Bloomberg) -- Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat leading a race for the U.S. Senate, misrepresented his military service record during the Vietnam War, the New York Times reported.
Blumenthal claimed to have served in Vietnam when in fact he obtained several deferments and then served in a Marine Corps reserve unit stationed in the U.S., the Times reported, citing records. Blumenthal’s campaign biography mentions his service in the reserves without any reference to Vietnam.
Blumenthal, 64, who entered the race after incumbent Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd announced his retirement, was favored to win the November election by the three Washington-based publications that rate congressional contests, Congressional Quarterly, the Cook Political Report and the Rothenberg Political Report. The New York Times story could change that, said Glenn Totten, a Democratic consultant who works on congressional races.
“It could be fatal, if Blumenthal’s opponent is able to use that as a wedge to open a real question of character,” Totten said. “It’s one thing to say you did more in Vietnam than you actually did. It’s another to say you served there when in fact you went directly out of your way to avoid service.”
Blumenthal and other Democrats tried to limit the damage yesterday.
‘May Have Misspoken’
“My intention was to be always clear and straightforward about what my service was,” Blumenthal said in an interview with Hearst Connecticut newspapers. “I’ve always said that I’ve served in the Marine Corps Reserve during the Vietnam era. If I said anything otherwise on very rare occasions, I may have misspoken.”
Messages left for Blumenthal with his campaign manager and his wife weren’t immediately returned.
Eric Schultz, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said it was “no surprise Republicans would want to smear Dick Blumenthal.”
Republicans seized on the Times story, which said Blumenthal referred to his Vietnam service on the campaign trail, even though he didn’t go overseas.
“Mr. Blumenthal owes the people of Connecticut, and particularly its veterans, a thorough explanation for the very serious questions that have been raised over what appears to be a long history of dishonest statements,” said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Ahead in Polls
Blumenthal led Republican challengers Linda McMahon and former Representative Rob Simmons by more than 30 points each in a March poll by Quinnipiac University of Hamden, Connecticut.
“The one thing about it is it’s May and the election isn’t until November,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute. “If it had happened in October, good Lord.”
The Times, citing records, reported that Blumenthal got at least five military deferments from 1965-70 and took steps to avoid going to war. With the deferments, Blumenthal studied at Harvard, pursued a fellowship in England, was a special assistant to Katharine Graham, then publisher of the Washington Post, and worked in Richard Nixon’s White House. In 1970 he took a post in a Marine Reserve Washington unit that worked on local projects, the newspaper said.
Simmons said in a statement that he was “deeply troubled” by allegations that Blumenthal “misrepresented” his service record. “Too many have sacrificed too much to have their valor stolen in this way,” he said.
Blumenthal built a career pursuing financial crime. Last month he sued Westport National Bank for allegedly aiding Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, seeking $16.2 million for defrauded investors. He investigated insurer American International Group Inc. for possible misuse of taxpayer bailout funds and persuaded the company to turn over information on executives who received bonuses after the bailout.
In 2008, he sued Countrywide Financial Corp., the mortgage company bought by Bank of America Corp., for allegedly duping borrowers into taking loans they couldn’t afford.
Blumenthal is helped by the fact he is ahead in the polls in a Democratic state, said John C. Fortier, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
“It seems as if he did not directly lie in writing, but in his live speeches he got carried away,” he said.
Still, Fortier said, “if there are particularly egregious videos, they are campaign ad fodder or candidates to go viral on the web, both of which could be more damaging than the reports we read about in the Times.”
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