By Jared Allen and J. Taylor Rushing - 05/19/10 12:13 AM EDT
Connecticut Democrats on Tuesday began considering replacing state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) on the ballot for the U.S. Senate, even as Senate Democrats offered unwavering support for him in a controversy over his military service.
Senators from Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee(DSCC) Chairman Robert Menendez (N.J.) to Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Blumenthal remains their candidate of choice in the race to replace the retiring Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), despite a New York Times report Monday that he had falsely claimed to have served in Vietnam.
“Everybody is trying to look like they’re doing nothing, and right now they are doing nothing, but people are getting ready to push if necessary,” said a high-ranking Democratic congressional aide with ties to Connecticut and the state’s Democratic establishment.
“Blumenthal’s someone who’s very well liked in Connecticut politics,” the aide said. “He’s not a person who’s loved.”
The Times reported that Blumenthal, in some cases, claimed outright to have served in Vietnam and, in others, allowed voters to have that impression. In 2008, he told one group “we learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam.”
Blumenthal received several military deferments that kept him out of service overseas; he did serve in the U.S. Marine Corps reserves during that era.
The five-term attorney general was roundly viewed as the party’s best chance to keep the seat in Democrats’ hands. The state party was reeling from a series of Democratic missteps, by candidates and incumbents alike, that officials fear have soured the party’s image across the state.
Many Connecticut Democrats had tolerated what one on Tuesday called Blumenthal’s “lackluster” campaign, because he was untarnished as a candidate.
Many in the state believe that a mortgage controversy that damaged Dodd sealed his fate in voters’ minds, prompting his decision to retire.
For now, party leaders consider the fallout from the revelations “too close to call,” as one official put it after Blumenthal held a mid-afternoon press conference Tuesday to make his case to voters.
Blumenthal sought to minimize the controversy as a matter of “a few misplaced words.”
“On a few occasions I have misspoken about my service. And I regret that, and I take full responsibility,” he said. “I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country.”
Instead of responding directly to the substance of the Times report, senior Senate Democrats simply vouched for Blumenthal’s character. Menendez also made a veiled reference to former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, both of whom avoided serving in the Vietnam War.
“Look, unlike others, Dick Blumenthal went ahead and joined the Marine Corps Reserve and served for six years with distinction,” Menendez said. “He has the support of veterans in his state because he has been a consistent and unwavering supporter of veterans and their issues.”
Menendez directed the DSCC to distribute a video of a primary debate in March in which Blumenthal stated he did not serve in Vietnam.
Durbin was dismissive, suggesting that Blumenthal can and will recover.
“One news cycle doesn’t make a campaign. Tomorrow is another day,” Durbin said. “Trust me. If you’ve been through this business, you’ve got to understand that just because a shot is fired, it doesn’t mean the battle is over.”
“I agree with that, but again, I’ll say that I know Dick Blumenthal. My support for him is unwavering, and I think he’ll make a great United States senator,” Dodd said.
Vietnam veterans including Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) refused to be drawn into the controversy.
“I’ve been so immersed that I’m not up to speed on it. I don’t know the facts,” said Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who became a prominent anti-war activist after returning to the U.S. in 1970.
“I don’t have any comment on it,” said McCain, a five-year prisoner of war of the North Vietnamese.
Blumenthal’s fate may not be determined for some time, even given Saturday’s convention. Long-shot Democratic candidate Merrick Alpert could now secure enough delegates to win the nomination outright. But with the primary filing deadline not until the first week of June, any number of Democrats could still add their names to the ballot.
And even if Blumenthal wins the party nod on Saturday, he could withdraw from the ballot as late as August and allow the state party to name a replacement.
That scenario was well within the sights of state party officials, even as Menendez and Dodd were standing by Blumenthal on Tuesday.
Gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont, who lost to Lieberman in the 2008 general election after beating him in the Democratic primary — forcing Lieberman to run as an Independent — said he was sticking with the governor’s race.
Among the possible replacements for Blumenthal, second-term Rep. Chris Murphy was mentioned most often. Both Murphy and fellow second-term Rep. Joe Courtney have over $1 million in cash on hand, according to their most recent Federal Election Commission filings.
But Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson, who has less cash at the ready but a more powerful fundraising network both within and outside the state, was also mentioned as a potential “consensus candidate” if the Blumenthal controversy threatens to deteriorate into a public party feud.
Eric Zimmermann contributed to this story.