With Republican prospects brightening for major wins in Connecticut in the fall elections, Republican National Chairman Michael S. Steele on Sunday accused the Democrats' U.S. Senate front-runner, state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, of lying about having served in Vietnam.
Appearing on the same "Fox News Sunday" TV show, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine backed away a bit from Mr. Blumenthal, who several times claimed military service in the Vietnam War but, after news stories to the contrary last week, now is saying he "misspoke" and admits to not having fought in Vietnam.
Mr. Steele told Fox that Mr. Blumental's claims "were knowingly wrong."
Saying the same thing but without the key word "knowingly," Mr. Kaine said on Fox that the "statements were wrong," but that the Connecticut attorney general had not misled on every occasion he mentioned his service. "People who have covered him for years have pointed out numerous instances of him stating accurately his military service," he said.
Mr. Blumenthal took several military-draft deferments in the late 1960s and then got a coveted spot in the Marine Corps reserves from 1970, staying in the U.S. for the entire war.
Even with his once-strong lead suddenly heading sharply south after the Vietnam disclosures, Mr. Blumenthal on Friday won the state party's endorsement as its candidate to replace retiring Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, a Democrat. Former World Wrestling Federation president and CEO Linda McMahon was endorsed by a Republican state convention, also in Hartford on Friday, for the party's nomination in the Nov. 2 race.
But complicating the picture is Connecticut's two-step nominating system consisting of GOP and Democratic nominating conventions followed by an Aug. 12 primary election in each party. The candidates who won Friday are both potentially strong opponents who either won enough votes in the convention to get on the primary ballot or will mount separate petition drives to do the same.
Mr. Blumenthal's only competitor folded before the convention vote, so as of now, there is no Democratic Senate primary set for Aug. 12, but some state activists think it may not be over.
"There is an excellent chance he will drop out and a vacancy committee appointed during the convention would choose another nominee," former state Sen. Joe Markley, a coordinator for the Connecticut Grass Roots Alliance, told The Washington Times." Mr. Markley attended a "summit" of about 100 alliance-leader and "tea party" activists in Stamford on Sunday.
Connecticut Democratic campaign strategist Roy Occhiogrosso told The Times that he doesn't think the "tea-party movement in Connecticut has been as high-profile here as in a lot of other states. But no one underestimates the uneasiness voters feel over many issues that people active in the tea party movement in Connecticut are talking about. The economy, jobs, fiscal responsibility — these are all critical issues."
Eager to keep making hay out of Mr. Blumenthal's sketchy claims on his military service and what it says about truth-telling, Republicans are hoping that he doesn't quit the race before the Aug. 12 Democratic primary.
Republicans are particularly joyful because they have in Mrs. McMahon and in Tom Foley, their endorsed candidate for governor, hopefuls of sufficient personal wealth to finance their own campaigns to whatever extent necessary.
Mrs. McMahon, though running as a free-market champion, is not the favorite of Connecticut's tea party movement.
Monique Thomas of Greenwich and Cathy Grippi of Wilton, leaders of the 31 local groups around the state linked in a "Grass Roots Alliance" of Tea Party Patriot clubs and other activist groups have embraced — but not formally endorsed — one of Mrs. McMahon's two GOP nomination competitors — businessman Peter Schiff.
He is a conservative who advocates the removal of all U.S. troops from the Middle East. He has a nine-minute video on the Internet excoriating the McMahon forces and the party leadership for rigging the convention to cut him out of contention. Mr. Schiff is contemplating a petition drive to get on the Aug. 12 ballot, which would make it a three-way contest with former Rep. Rob Simmons, a liberal Republican who was originally favored by the national GOP establishment and who won sufficient convention votes on Friday to appear to automatically get a ballot slot.
Mr. Simmons has been attacked by various Connecticut tea party groups, and the national anti-spending Club for Growth has slammed him for having supported "cap and trade" legislation and the labor-union drive to legislate a national "card check" voting system for union representation. Others have criticized him for opposing legislation to bar partial-birth abortions.
Though Connecticut voters have supported Democratic candidates in recent elections - no Republicans currently hold federal office - 2010 is expected to be a Republican year and the party has several candidates who have shown a knack for raising money for their own campaigns or have significant personal resources. Republican officials claim they will be competitive in all five U.S. House contests but particularly in two of them.
"We have two-well financed candidates for the House," Connecticut GOP Chairman Chris Healy said, referring to state Sen. Dan Debicella, a Hartford Insurance Co. executive seeking to run against the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Jim Himes, and state Sen. Sam Caligiuri, who wants to unseat Rep. Christopher S. Murphy.
He also noted that "the leading candidates for governor and for the Senate have significant personal resources."
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