Was Blumenthal Always Doomed?

The New York Times story revealing Richard Blumenthal’s misstatements about military service in Vietnam could deal a fatal blow to the popular attorney general’s campaign for Senate in Connecticut. But while few had anticipated a blow-up over this issue, some observers had been predicting for months that Blumenthal’s campaign would be derailed by his fumbling on the trail.

The Times catches a 2008 statement by Blumenthal before a group of veterans that he had “served in Vietnam,” though he had never done so. But, the Times adds, it wasn’t just one error that did Blumenthal in: “[W]hat is striking about Mr. Blumenthal’s record is the contrast between the many steps he took that allowed him to avoid Vietnam, and the misleading way he often speaks about that period of his life now, especially when he is speaking at veterans’ ceremonies or other patriotic events.”

Observers had questioned whether Blumenthal had the savvy to withstand the challenges of a rigorous, modern-day campaign, as he had rarely been tested in the political arena. For 20 years, Blumenthal had been a widely popular attorney general, crusading against pedophiles, used-car dealers, insurers, and other “easily demonized foes,” the Times wrote back in April. His popularity gave him a commanding double digit-lead over his Republican challengers, with the latest polls showing him at least 13 points ahead of former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon.

But Blumenthal’s earlier stumbles created a gnawing concern among some Democrats about his political acumen. He flopped in his first televised debate, rambled in response to routine campaign questions, and relied heavily on “prosecutorial parlance and legal arcana,” leading some Democrats to call him “Martha Coakley in pants,” writes the Times. According to one veteran state Democratic party leader, “years of one-sided news conferences had left the attorney general unaccustomed to challenge.”

Whether or not he deliberately meant to misled the public about his Vietnam service, Blumenthal’s statements about his military record are just another sign of his political shortcomings in an environment in which every slip-up and inconsistency is ruthlessly scrutinized. He still has the opportunity, however slim, to recover from the blow, given McMahon’s rush to claim credit for the hit and his scheduled press conference today. But doing so will require him to transform into something that he’s rarely been before: a modern-day political animal.