WASHINGTON -- State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal was a sure bet to win Connecticut's open Democratic Senate seat, until it was discovered he lied about serving in the Vietnam war.
One day after The New York Times' blockbuster front-page story ran on May 17, the Cook Political Report's election trackers moved the race into the tossup column. The longtime liberal Democrat, who would be a guaranteed vote for Barack Obama's entire agenda, "is no longer the heavy favorite he was ... and Republicans will now play on a more level playing field," the report said.
"There is now a very long and deep scratch in Blumenthal's Teflon, and the tougher the Teflon, the more damaging the scratch. Voters are now likely to see Blumenthal as more of a typical politician than he's ever been," Cook's analysis added.
The well-researched Times story, quoting from news accounts of his speeches, as well as eyewitnesses and tapes, showed he had misrepresented his military service record and had never served in Vietnam.
Instead, after seeking and receiving five military deferments from 1965 to 1970 -- that allowed him to pursue a graduate fellowship in Great Britain, work for the Washington Post's publisher and take a job in the White House -- he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves in the United States.
His reserve duty included part-time drills, fixing up a campground, and helping with a Toys for Tots drive.
But the Times found out that in recent years he often embellished his military experience, sometimes flatly saying he had been in the Vietnam war or led people to believe that he had been.
"We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam," he told Norwalk, Conn., voters in March 2008. "And you exemplify it. Whatever we think about the war, whatever we call it -- Afghanistan or Iraq -- we owe our military men and women unconditional support."
In another appearance in 2008 before the Veterans War Memorial in Shelton, Conn., he paid tribute to American soldiers serving abroad then said, "I served during the Vietnam era. I remember the taunts, the insults, sometimes even physical abuse."
In 2003, at a rally of about 100 military families in Bridgeport, Conn., he said, "When we returned, we saw nothing like this. Let us do better by this generation of men and women."
In his defense at a news conference where he took no questions, Blumenthal said he inadvertently misspoke "on a few occasions out of hundreds of events" and could not be held responsible for how he was quoted in the press. He never apologized for making these and other false remarks.
But those who know Blumenthal well told the Times he is a brilliant lawyer who in trial cases and on the campaign stump uses language "with power and precision" and "is also savvy about the news media, and attentive to how he is portrayed in the press." Yet the Times found that "in at least eight newspaper articles published in Connecticut from 2003 to 2009, he is described as having served in Vietnam."
On July 20, 2006, the New Haven Register wrote that he was "a veteran of the Vietnam War, and on April 6, 2007, said he had "served in the Marines in Vietnam." The Connecticut Post, the third largest daily in the state, described him as "a Vietnam veteran."
He and his defenders attacked the story, but the Times came back with a follow-up, showing that "broader newspaper archival searches continue to turn up instances" where Blumenthal "portrayed himself as a Vietnam War veteran even though he did not serve in the war."
One of those newspaper articles appeared in The Milford Mirror, a weekly paper that covered a Memorial Day address in May 2007 that he gave to a group of local officials and military people in Milford, Conn.
Recalling his service in Vietnam, Blumenthal told the gathering, according to the Milford paper, "In Vietnam we had to endure taunts and insults, and no one said 'Welcome home.' I say welcome home."
Another article in The Stamford Advocate reported very similar remarks he had made about his military service at a Veterans Day parade on Nov. 9, 2008. "I wore the uniform in Vietnam," he said, "and many came back to all kinds of disrespect." Blumenthal's high command is hoping that all this will go away as the campaign moves into higher gear and on to other issues. But some Democrats fear it will get worse as new fabrications emerge.
His Republican opponent, Linda McMahon, will certainly make this a major issue in the campaign. And now even Democrats are taking him to task and ridiculing his statements. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine told ABC's This Week that he was "inflating and exaggerating" his record.
Even Vice President Joe Biden got a dig in while speaking at a barbecue for wounded soldiers last week when he talked of Vietnam war veterans coming home. "I didn't serve in Vietnam. I don't want to make a Blumenthal mistake here," he said.