Mark Pazniokas over at CTMirror.org today reported that self-funded Republican U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon is out with a mailing going after Democratic nominee Richard Blumenthal’s so-far occasional statements that he served IN Vietnam rather than stateside in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Since the New York Time’s broke its controversial story in mid-May, Blumenthal has repeatedly argued that at a handful of public events over his 20-years as state attorney general he misspoke.
It wasn’t long ago that former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, R-Bridgeport, who helped fuel the controversy by telling the New York Times and other publications that he witnessed Blumenthal’s mis-representing his military service, told me Blumenthal’s critics were being “unduly harsh” and that he never thought Blumenthal’s intentions were “nefarious.”
That’s not something you’ll read in the McMahon mailer which, according to Pazniokas, states Blumenthal “lied about his military service for political gain” and cites five examples.
Clearly McMahon thinks she can still use the issue to eat into Blumenthal’s lead in the general election. And so does one of her opponents in the August 10 Republican primary – actual Vietnam veteran (he’s got the ribbons to show for it) and former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, who plans on making it a major issue should he be the GOP candidate to face Blumenthal in November.
I’m no highly-paid political consultant, so far be it from me to second-guess the McMahon camp’s political strategy or how she decides to spend the $50 million she pledged to pump into her first-time bid for public office.
But I will say that voters attending Blumenthal’s July 15 campaign stop at the Litchfield Inn didn’t seem all that excited about Vietnam. And these were self-described Republicans, one self-described Republican-turned-unaffiliated voter and a Democrat-turned-fiscally-conservative-independent.
Blumenthal was in town to speak to the Litchfield Morris Rotary Club, which had already hosted McMahon, Simmons and the third Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, economist Peter Schiff.
When the floor was opened to questions, veteran consumer advocate George Gombossy, a former Hartford Courant employee who now runs ctwatchdog.com, was the first to stand up. He asked Blumenthal how could he have misstated his military service?
“I am proud that I served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves and was honorably discharged,” Blumenthal said, re-iterating his defense that the statements “were unintentional. I take full responsibility for them.”
Gombossy sought to follow-up but the moderator, Charles Conn, who afterward told me he is a Republican, interrupted.
“George,” he said. “You’ve asked your question … If you want to discuss it afterward that’s perfectly fine. I just don’t want to make this a big point here.”
But Blumenthal said it was okay and Gombossy could continue, so he did. Gombossy said Blumenthal’s mistakenly telling the audience he served in Vietnam is akin to Gombossy “unintentionally saying I was born in China.”
Blumenthal stuck to his message – he regrets it, he’s sorry “and the fact it was unintentional is not excuse.” Oh, by the way, he looks forward to continuing to fight for veterans’ rights as a U.S. Senator.
At that point Edward Murphy Jr., a local Realtor who described himself to me as a Democrat-turned-independent voter, said: “I’d like to get on to a more important question.” He asked Blumenthal how he would reduce the federal deficit if elected to Congress?
When the event was over I spoke to Murphy, Conn and a few other attendees about Blumenthal’s appearance.
Murphy was disappointed in Blumenthal’s lack of specifics when talking about cutting the federal deficit and, as a fiscal conservative, believes he will wind up voting Republican. But he said Schiff is “too extreme” and does not believe McMahon has provided voters enough details about her platform.
“None of them really has got me going,” Murphy said.
As for the Vietnam issue? Murphy said: “I don’t know how he could do that. But you know what? We’ve got to move on.”
Dom Vita, who told me he was a lifelong Republican but is now an unaffiliated voter, also did not feel passionately about the Vietnam matter.
“He’s been great for Connecticut,” Vita said, calling Blumenthal “very dedicated.”
Lydia Brimelow, a Republican who asked Blumenthal about immigration, was, like Murphy, not satisfied with how the candidate responded. But she said she found his defense of his Vietnam statements “pretty fair, frankly.”
(Her Republican husband Peter, however, called Blumenthal’s mis-characterization of his military service “an absolute, blatant lie.” But he was impressed with Blumenthal’s comments about China and currency manipulation, calling them surprisingly sophisticated.)
Conn, despite being a Republican, admitted he is “on the fence” when it comes to backing a U.S. Senate candidate. Conn is concerned about the Democrats’ spending in Washington and not eager to increase their power in Congress.
But when his business had a financial dispute with a computer company, Conn turned to Blumenthal’s office “and they solved it.”
“I have the greatest respect for many of the things he and his office have accomplished,” Conn told me.
So what about the Vietnam flap?
“It matters some. On a scale of 1 to 10? Probably a 2,” Conn said. “What lets me cut slack with him is he has said repeatedly he was sorry … He didn’t seem to say it (that he served in Vietnam) all the time.”
Maybe these folks are an anomaly and McMahon has thick files of internal polling proving the Vietnam issue still has traction. Maybe she has documented evidence or video footage of 30 other times Blumenthal talked about serving IN Vietnam and is just waiting to spring it on the voting public.
But you’ve at least got to consider the responses of the good folks in Litchfield July 15 and wonder if other people out there in the real, non-political-consultant world care.