State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, under fire for misspeaking about his military record during Vietnam, easily won the endorsement Friday night of Connecticut Democrats to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by 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."
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, Republicans were holding their own convention to choose a nominee. Former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, former World Wrestling Entertainment executive Linda McMahon and Fairfield County money manager Peter Schiff were among those vying for the GOP's endorsement.
Delegates were meeting under a spotlight they've rarely seen.
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, who was in the Marine Reserve, 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, who said her campaign provided some research information to the newspaper, shows Blumenthal at the beginning of his speech correctly characterizing his service by saying that he "served in the military, during the Vietnam era."
There have since been reports of other instances where Blumenthal was quoted as saying he served "in" Vietnam.
"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."
Blumenthal accused Republicans of "selling tired ideas of the past." He spoke of stopping bailouts for Wall Street and holding insurance companies accountable, cutting waste and fraud and making the U.S. "a country where decent health care really is available and affordable."
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.
Simmons, a Vietnam veteran, was expected to win the GOP nomination, but Republicans were not ruling that McMahon could make it a close fight.
Candidates who don't win can force a primary election in August if they gather at least 15 percent of the vote.
McMahon has pledged to spend up to $50 million of her own money on the race.
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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