Commentary Magazine


Connecticut Front-Runner’s Woes May Help Simmons, Not McMahon

The news that Linda McMahon’s campaign was the source for the New York Times article exposing Richard Blumenthal’s lies about his Vietnam War record provides an interesting irony for the GOP primary in Connecticut.

As Politico noted, it was probably McMahon’s deep pockets that financed the research about Blumenthal, though it must be acknowledged that when the Times wants to dig into someone’s background to find dirt — whether real or imagined — the Gray Lady finds the money. John McCain, who was the subject of a months-long investigation based on unsubstantiated allegations of infidelity during the 2008 presidential campaign, can testify to that.

However, it can be argued that the revelations about Blumenthal’s mendacity could actually undermine McMahon’s own primary campaign rather than help it. McMahon jumped into the Connecticut GOP Senate race thinking that former congressman Rob Simmons could be beaten easily in the primary by her superior financial resources. The fact that Simmons was a more credible candidate and had governmental experience was also discounted as being of negligible value in a year in which outsider status had greater appeal to discontented voters.

But by bringing to light Blumenthal’s lies about serving in Vietnam when in fact he dodged the draft by obtaining several deferments and then gaining a coveted spot in a Reserve unit in Washington (where he participated in Toys for Tots programs rather than in fighting), McMahon may have given Simmons the break he was looking for. As it happens, Simmons is a real Vietnam combat veteran. As such, he will be better placed to exploit the voters’ disgust with Blumenthal’s lies than is McMahon, whose only combat experience is of the stage-managed pro-wrestling variety in which the steroid-filled buffoons she and her husband employed pretended to hurt each other.

Once incumbent Chris Dodd decided to pull the plug on his scandal-plagued re-election effort and Blumenthal declared his intention to run, the Connecticut seat went from being in play to one that was classified as safely in the Democratic column. However, as I wrote last month, the first reviews of Blumenthal’s candidacy were decidedly negative. Though he has always been considered the golden boy of the state’s Democratic Party — albeit one that was strangely reluctant to take his chances and run for a higher office than state attorney general — once he hit the campaign trail this year, many Democrats began to worry that he was “Martha Coakley in Pants.” But the Times blockbuster isn’t merely another embarrassment for a faltering campaign. For a man like Blumenthal, whose main asset was a reputation for integrity (in a state whose high officials have had a distressing tendency to be convicted on corruption charges in recent years), a story that reveals him as a serial liar has the potential to destroy his candidacy.

Blumenthal will attempt to salvage the situation this afternoon in a press conference in which he will, no doubt, attempt to discredit the Times and/or McMahon. But you can’t help but wonder whether Connecticut Democrats, who thought they were putting scandal behind them when they replaced Dodd with Blumenthal, are now wondering whether they just exchanged one problem for another.