WEST HARTFORD -- Connecticut Democratic Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal said he "misspoke" when he said he served in Vietnam, and regrets suggesting on a handful of occasions that he was actually in the warzone, instead of Parris Island, SC, where the now-state attorney general served in the US Marine Corps Reserves.
But suggestions that he misrepresented himself as he enters a campaign season bound to be tough on Democrats is simply wrong, a defiant Blumenthal said Tuesday.
The candidate was responding to a front-page New York Times report -- complete with video attached to the website version -- that showed Blumenthal talking about his military service "in" Vietnam, as opposed to "during the Vietnam era," as the Democrat said he should have said.
"On a few occasions, I have misspoken about my service. I regret that, and I take full responsibility," Blumenthal told reporters and veterans at the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall near the state capital. But "I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service," he added.
Surrounded on a stage by cheering veterans who hooted down aggressive media questioning, Blumenthal also insisted he did not receive any special treatment when he received several deferments from overseas service in the 1960s, when many young men worried about being sent to Vietnam.
"Unlike many of my peers, I chose to join the military and serve my country," Blumenthal said, adding that he found the USMC Reserves "in the phone book." He said he received deferments then given to college students (Blumenthal was at Harvard from 1963-67, and a Fiske Fellow at Trinity College in 1967-68), and again for civilian service in the White House, where he worked for then-urban affairs adviser Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Blumenthal received a mostly very warm welcome from the veterans, who described the candidate as a friend to former servicemembers.
"I'm here because I cannot let the malicious, deceptive charges against my good friend Dick go unanswered," said Peter Galgano, a VFW member and former Marine who introduced Blumenthal. "Excuse me for being sentimental, but the man has been in my heart since I've been in Connecticut," Galgano said. "He has always been completely straightforward about his honorable service in the United States Marine Corps Reserves."
A few veterans in the audience shook their heads skeptically when Blumenthal spoke, and a lone female demonstrator outside the VFW hall carried a sign saying "Deferments: 5, Integrity: 0." Blumenthal;s primary opponent, Merrick Alpert, attacked Blumenthal's character.
"He's not sorry he did it. He's sorry he got caught doing it," Alpert said after the event. But "I don't expect a career politician to apologize," he added.
Before Tuesday's disclosure, poll showed Blumenthal easily beating Alpert in the primary, and well ahead of either GOP Senate primary candidate in the general election.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.