West Hartford, Conn. Trying to defuse a crisis that could give the GOP a powerful opening, Democratic Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal said Tuesday that he “misspoke” in claiming more than once that he served in Vietnam, and he dismissed the furor as a matter of “a few misplaced words.”
At a news conference where he surrounded himself with veterans, the Connecticut attorney general and far-and-away front-runner to replace retiring Democrat Christopher Dodd said he meant to say he served “during” Vietnam instead of “in” Vietnam. He said the statements were “totally unintentional” errors that occurred only a few times out of hundreds of public appearances.
Democrats in Connecticut and Washington stood by Blumenthal, and neither party said the incident was enough to instantly sink his candidacy. But the controversy raised Republican hopes of taking a seemingly safe seat away from the Democrats and reducing their Senate majority.
“On a few occasions, I have misspoken about my service and I regret that. And I take full responsibility,” said Blumenthal, a trim, square-jawed figure with the bearing of a military man. “But I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country.”
The crisis erupted when The New York Times reported that Blumenthal had repeatedly distorted his military service. The story included quotations and a video of Blumenthal saying at a 2008 event that he had “served in Vietnam.” The newspaper also said Blumenthal intimated more than once that he was a victim of the abuse heaped on Vietnam veterans upon their return home.
At a veterans event in Shelton, Conn., for example, he said, “When we returned from Vietnam, I remember the taunts, the verbal and even physical abuse we encountered,” according to a 2008 Connecticut Post story.
Blumenthal, 64, joined the Marine Reserve in 1970 and served six years, none of it overseas. He put in much of his time in Washington, where he took part in such projects as fixing a campground and working on a Toys for Tots drive, according to the Times.
He received at least five military deferments that enabled him to stay out of the war between 1965 and 1970, during which time he went to Harvard, studied in England and landed a job in the Nixon White House. Once he secured a spot in the Marine Reserve, he had almost no chance of being sent to Vietnam, the newspaper reported.