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Blumenthal showing confidence despite service flap

Hartford - Attorney General Richard Blumenthal stepped out of the black SUV in front of the Legislative Office Building on Thursday afternoon, preparing to duck out of a roasting sun into the cool atrium for a ceremony honoring Hispanic veterans from Connecticut.

If Blumenthal was bothered by the latest revelation that he has on occasion misstated his military service during the time of the Vietnam War, the leading Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate was not letting on.

"Old news," Blumenthal said, referring to a story about a "trove" of misstatements in the Stamford Advocate. "Nothing new. I've said I misspoke on a few occasions. I regret it, I take full responsibility for it, and the Stamford Advocate is nothing new."

The halted walk of a scandal-plagued candidate is new for Blumenthal, for years one of the state's most popular elected officials, and at one point considered by some Democrats a prohibitive favorite in the race to succeed Sen. Chris Dodd.

To hear his Republican and Democratic opponents tell it, that image is undone by the revelation of a video of Blumenthal stating, falsely, that he had served "in Vietnam," along with other instances in which he has appeared to suggest that his service in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve took him abroad, to Vietnam.

In many other public appearances over the years, Blumenthal has specified that his service in the reserves did not take him into Vietnam or into combat, including most recently and prominently in a debate with primary challenger Merrick Alpert that was televised statewide in March.

Blumenthal insisted Thursday, on the eve of the Democratic and Republican conventions, that his reputation will not suffer permanent damage with voters or veterans.

"I have been impressed and overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from citizens, veterans really across the state, and I think ultimately people know the truth that I've been standing up for them and fighting for them relentlessly throughout my career," he said outside the reception, arranged by the legislature's Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission.

"My belief is that the truth is on our side. People know me, they know my record. There may be a couple of instances, a few occasions, when I misspoke and I regret it. And I want people to know the truth."

Blumenthal addressed the several dozen veterans and others in attendance, including a brief greeting in Spanish and an oft-told story about attending the commissioning of his 24-year-old son, Matthew, as a lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.

He did not mention the current controversy that swirls around his campaign or his military experience.

But upon leaving, Blumenthal accepted a handshake and offer of support from Norman Renee Coutu, who identified himself as a veteran of the Air National Guard.

"He's always a gentleman, a true soldier and a patriot to his country," Coutu said. "So I just offered to help his campaign in any way that I could."

"The support in this hall reflects the reaction that I see all around the state of Connecticut, and I want to bring this conversation through my campaign back to the real issues that affect people," Blumenthal said Thursday. "Jobs, and the economy, energy and education, the problems that affect real people in the real world, rather than something that happened 40 years ago."

That is not what Blumenthal's opponents are saying. The story of Blumenthal's inaccuracies has been fanned for days by the campaigns of Republicans Linda McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, and Rob Simmons, a former eastern Connecticut congressman and a veteran of two 20-month tours in Vietnam, one with the U.S. Army and the second with the Central Intelligence Agency.

Meanwhile, a potentially bitter fight awaits at tonight's Democratic convention.

Alpert, a businessman from Mystic, angrily tried to lobby party officials this week to give him a chance to make a speech to delegates on the convention floor.

Alpert's pitch, with the blossoming of Blumenthal's Vietnam controversy, has now come around to be the same argument he made for his candidacy when he was still running against the embattled Dodd: His exposure to controversy has simply made him "unelectable."

It seems unlikely he will get that chance tonight. Blumenthal remains a favorite, and the party's convention rules in past years have not permitted all candidates who are placed in nomination at a convention to address delegates.

Even in past cycles with contested Senate races, like the battle between Sen. Joseph Lieberman and Ned Lamont in 2006, the speeches have limited to nominating and seconding addresses from delegates in support of each candidate, and an address by the winner of the convention vote.

The question of his ability to speak will be decided in large part by a 2:30 p.m. meeting of the party's rules committee, where it will vote on a report detailing rules for this year's convention. Those rules will then be subject to a floor vote by the roughly 1,800 Democratic delegates.

"Obviously, my intent is to be able to speak, and to try to get 15 percent of delegates in the convention to force a primary," Alpert said Thursday in a phone interview. "It is in the best interests of the Democratic Party to have a vigorous primary, because it is very clear that we are not prepared for a general election."

Party officials rebutted Alpert's suggestion that he was being sidelined in favor of Blumenthal.

"We have always had it that the only candidate that speaks is the one that wins the nomination," said Nancy DiNardo, the party chairwoman.

As for Alpert's charge that members of the rules committee are working to prevent his speech in order to solidify support for Blumenthal, DiNardo said, "I don't know half the people on the committee, and I don't know that he does, so to make that kind of accusation is unfounded."

But Alpert insists he can swing delegates who have soured on Blumenthal in the past three days to his campaign, if given the chance to argue.

"There's been a momentous shift in the political landscape," Alpert said. "I'm of the belief that if I can stand in front of them and speak, enough of the delegates will come our way that we can force a primary."

The Democratic convention begins this afternoon at the Connecticut Expo Center in Hartford. Republicans convene at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.

t.mann@theday.com

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