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Blumenthal looks to shift race focus off Vietnam

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SUSAN HAIGH | May 19, 2010 09:49 PM EST | AP

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HARTFORD, Conn. — U.S. Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal plans to refocus attention on the economy and other issues as he returns to the campaign trail, a strategy consultants say could work so long as voters and veterans believe he has adequately addressed why he "misspoke" about his military record.

An adviser to the Democrat's campaign said Wednesday that Blumenthal "very forcefully and very clearly" addressed the controversy over his claim that he served in Vietnam during his news conference a day earlier and will turn his focus on issues that matter to voters.

"I think in the end, the people of Connecticut care a lot more about what's happening today in their lives, whether they're going to keep their homes, their health care and their jobs," campaign adviser Marla Romash told The Associated Press in an interview.

Romash said Blumenthal will still answer questions about his military service, but he prefers to talk about "how he'll fight for Connecticut's families."

The political crisis erupted when The New York Times reported Monday that Blumenthal 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 he meant to say he served "during" Vietnam instead of "in" Vietnam. He said the statements were "totally unintentional" errors that occurred only a few times out of hundreds of public appearances.

A longer version of the video posted by a Republican opponent shows Blumenthal at the beginning of his speech correctly characterizing his service by saying that he "served in the military, during the Vietnam era."

A spokeswoman for the Times says the longer video does not change the story about a "long and well-established pattern of misleading his constituents about his Vietnam War service."

Appearing at a police memorial ceremony on Wednesday, Blumenthal told two television stations that he was "prepared for a very tough battle" in the race and was encouraged by the support he's received.

Blumenthal is the front-runner to replace retiring Democrat Christopher Dodd, and the revelations of his misstatements come days before Democrats meet Friday to endorse a candidate for the seat.

Ed Patru, a spokesman for Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon, questioned why Blumenthal was not clearer in saying that he served stateside. He argued that "serving during the Vietnam era" is misleading.

"It's his pattern of routinely speaking in an ambiguous and vague way that will cost him this election," Patru said. "Instead of straight talk, he's fuzzy."

Democratic strategist Chris Kofinish said veterans' acceptance of Blumenthal's explanation and continued support would go a long way toward easing voters' concerns.

"Something like this becomes a bigger problem if you don't address it," he said. "As long as this has been addressed directly and in a forthright manner, which I think he has done, then voters, I think, are going to move on."

Republican strategist John Feehery agreed that Blumenthal needs to refocus the debate.

"The problem for Blumenthal is that he had such an image of a choir boy, and this really kind of damages that," Feehery said. "He's got to find a way to keep moving forward, understanding that his reputation has been dinged, and find other things to talk about."

John Droney, a former chairman of the Connecticut Democrats and a Vietnam veteran, said he believes Blumenthal still has the support of veterans across the state. He said Blumenthal enjoys a reservoir of good will for his years of work, attending funerals and send-off ceremonies, helping veterans with legal matters and speaking at events.

"He's determined to press on and he feels that as he said (Tuesday), he won't let a few words that were misspoken affect or sully his record," Droney said. "He's a Marine. He's pretty tough."

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Associated Press Writer Stephanie Reitz contributed to this report.