In New Haven Monday to help open a shelter for homeless war veterans, embattled U.S. Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal finally uttered out loud two words he hopes can stanch the campaign bleeding: “I’m sorry.”
Blumenthal was apologizing for several instances in which he has stated that he served “in Vietnam” during the war, rather than as a stateside Marine Corps reserve.
He made the apology in a conversation with the Independent before a homeless vets’ event on Davenport Avenue, and then again afterwards in an interview with the Independent and WTNH.
“I’m sorry,” “I’m very sorry,” he said. Repeatedly.
Click on the play arrow above to watch excerpts from those interviews.
Blumenthal has resisted uttering those fateful words for close to a week.
His fellow Democrats and Republican opponents have urged him to make such an apology since the New York Times reported on the misstatements last Monday night—and sparked a controversy that has seen Blumenthal’s double-digit lead evaporate in the race to replace retiring Connecticut U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd. Instead of apologizing, Blumenthal struck a defiant pose for days; that kept the story alive, with the Times filing more stories about new discoveries of misstatements. Finally, late Sunday night, Blumenthal’s campaign emailed a terse written apology to the Hartford Courant; then the candidate came to New Haven prepared to apologize in person.
Blumenthal didn’t mention the controversy during the formal event Monday, a ribbon-cutting for Harkness House, a new transitional shelter run by the Columbus House homelessness agency for 14 homeless vets at a time.
But Blumenthal did unveil a new way of talking about veterans’ issues during his formal remarks at the ribbon-cutting. Unlike in the past, he didn’t speak of having served in the military. He didn’t talk about how “we” (soldiers) were treated upon returning home from Vietnam. He spoke about how “they” were treated. And he described himself not as a fellow soldier, but as a “fighter” for veterans.
He began his official remarks by claiming he’d been moved by an opening prayer delivered on behalf of veterans by the Rev. Kathleen McTigue of the Unitarian Society of New Haven.
“It rang so true to all of us who have worked on veterans’ issues,” the candidate said. “As hard as they may fight abroad, as tough as the battles are there, often their most challenging and bitter fights occur when they return. And they are fights not only against, sometimes, a government bureaucracy that fails to acknowledge their problems. They’re fights within themselves. They are inner battles that continue to be waged even as they come back to this nation where we have such freedom and peace because of their battles fought for us abroad. And this house will be a place of peace for them.”
In the interviews before and after the event, the candidate noted that he had previously expressed “regret” for making misstatements about having served “in Vietnam.” Now it’s time to utter a clear apology, he said.
“I want to say I made a mistake and I’m sorry to anyone who may have taken offense,” he said. “I’m going to continue to champion the cause of Connecticut’s and our nation’s veterans and now begin hopefully to turn to the real problems and the real issues that affect the people of Connecticut.”
“When I was honoring veterans I should have been more precise and clear in the words I used,” he said. “I want to say I’m sorry.”
Blumenthal expressed the hope that now that he’s apologized, the campaign discussion can turn to other questions.
“I hope that we’ll begin to talk about real issues that affect real people,” he said, “... the need to rebuild our economy, create more jobs ... making sure America is safe and strong.”
Will It Work?
It’s unclear how quickly that can happen, as demonstrated by the pictured sticker worn by a delegate at last weekend’s Republican state convention (spotted by WTNH’s Erin Cox). One question is whether Blumenthal waited too long to apologize, thereby keeping the story alive, making the apology itself a story, and basically daring the New York Times to continue writing stories about instances in which he fudged his military record.
The Blumenthal campaign Monday afternoon argued in a conference call with reporters that Blumenthal is weathering the controversy just fine. The call was with internal campaign pollsters from the firm of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. They said that in a poll of 602 likely voters last week, 91 percent reported being familiar with the controversy—and yet Blumenthal still led Republican frontrunner Linda McMahon 55 to 40 percent. They said 62 percent rated his job performance as good or excellent.
At the New Haven event Monday, Blumenthal deflected a question about whether the episode has given him insight into how quickly politicians should apologize for missteps.
One piece of useful advice might have come from a 1964 book called My Indiana. It quotes a Congressman named Charles Brownson. “I never quarrel with a man,” Brownson allegedly said, “who buys ink by the barrel.”