HARTFORD, Conn. – Former wrestling executive Linda McMahon won the Republican party endorsement for U.S. Senate in Connecticut on Friday and vowed to "lay the smackdown" on state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who captured the Democratic nomination despite recent criticism for misstating his military record.
Blumenthal, who served in the Marine Reserve during Vietnam, easily won the endorsement at his party's convention earlier Friday to fill the seat being vacated by the retiring Sen. Chris Dodd.
"I have made mistakes. I regret them. And I have taken responsibility," Blumenthal said. "But this campaign must be about the people of Connecticut."
McMahon, who has acknowledged providing information on Blumenthal's misstatements to the media, pulled away from former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons when several dozen delegates at the Republican convention switched their votes before the first ballot became final.
Many delegates said they believe McMahon, who has vowed to spend $50 million of her own money in the campaign, has enough resources to beat the popular Blumenthal.
"I venture to say we're going to lay the smackdown on him come November," McMahon said, borrowing a wrestling term.
But before McMahon takes on Blumenthal in November, she has to get by Simmons, a decorated Vietnam war veteran with two Bronze Stars. He received enough votes Friday to force an August primary.
"The McMahon campaign has invested over $16 million in this campaign, and I've spent nothing to take my case to the voters, and believe a case remains to be made," said Simmons, who said he still has about $1 million in contributions.
Fairfield County money manger Peter Schiff, who lost many of his delegates to McMahon, may try to petition his way onto the primary ballot, supporters said.
Despite the national attention that Blumenthal's misstatements have attracted, Democrats said they could not ignore his 26 years of political service — six years as a state lawmaker and 20 as Connecticut's omnipresent attorney general — to the state.
Blumenthal sprinted past Mystic businessman Merrick Alpert in the delegate count, leading Alpert to pull out of the contest and Blumenthal winning on a voice vote.
"I do think it's unfortunate he had some of the statements he made, but this convention is with him and everyone is human," said state Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford.
Two miles away, the Republican convention took on many of the trappings of a WWE event, complete with appearances by McMahon's husband, Vince, and Paul Levesque, McMahon's son-in-law, who is known to wrestling fans as Triple H.
Many of McMahon's supporters painted Blumenthal in the role of bad guy, wearing stickers with Blumenthal's face and the word "Liar."
"Now we know we have a really good shot of winning," said Joyce Koslowski, 61, of Seymour. "He had such a perfect record, and I think he thought he was unbeatable. And now we know he's not perfect, and we know we can get him."
Blumenthal became embroiled in a political crisis when The New York Times reported Monday that he 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.
Blumenthal said Tuesday that he meant to say he served "during" Vietnam instead of "in" Vietnam. He said the statements were "totally unintentional" errors that occurred a few times out of hundreds of public appearances.
A longer version of the video posted by McMahon shows Blumenthal at the beginning of his speech correctly characterizing his service by saying that he "served in the military, during the Vietnam era."
"Already, we've seen them try to make this race about attacks on my character and service," Blumenthal said Friday of his potential November opponents. "I'm proud of my service. I'm proud of the work I've done for veterans."
Dave Hutchinson of Farmington, a labor official who attended the Democratic convention, acknowledged he had mixed feelings about Blumenthal's missteps — a rarity for a man who has enjoyed strong popularity and has never been at the center of such a political maelstrom.
"He's a very articulate man. He's attorney general, he's a litigator, he picks and chooses his words wisely," Hutchinson said. "I think he played the moment. But I also think that cannot be used to distract from everything he's done good for the state of Connecticut."
Damian Maine of New Britain, who served in the Navy in Europe during the Vietnam War, was forgiving of Blumenthal, who he said has done good things for the state.
"Sometimes his story got a little mixed up, but I'm sure there's a lot of veterans who still support him," he said.
McMahon defended spending her personal fortune on the race.
"I was an unknown coming into this race," she said. "I needed to have a good solid campaign out of the box because people need to know who I am and what I stand for."
Without mentioning McMahon's name, Blumenthal inferred she could be his toughest opponent: "This will be a long and tough campaign. I may be outspent, but I won't be outworked."
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