Blumenthal damage control continues: a poll and an apology

Richard Blumenthal’s U.S. Senate campaign gave mixed messages Monday about the damage inflicted by a week-old controversy over characterizations of his Vietnam-era military record.

The previously defiant Blumenthal abruptly apologized for telling audiences he served in Vietnam, while his campaign advisers said that days-old internal polling shows that he is weathering the storm.

“There wasn’t anything in the poll that bothered me,” said Al Quinlan, a pollster with Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

The campaign did not provide copies of the poll. Quinlan summarized its findings during an occasionally contentious conference call Monday afternoon with Connecticut reporters.

By giving a memo previewing the findings to Mike Allen for inclusion in his “Playbook,” a blog widely read by the national political press, the Blumenthal campaign showed it may be more interested in reassuring the political establishment than Connecticut voters.

Allen’s posting went up at 6:39 a.m. Blumenthal’s campaign was rewarded with an assessment by some commentators on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” including John Harwood of the New York Times, that the controversy would not be fatal. Last week, the program savaged Blumenthal.

The controversy exploded a week ago with the New York Times posting a story about Blumenthal, a stateside Marine Reservist during the war, occasionally referring to time in Vietnam. In his official biography and numerous other speeches over the years, Blumenthal has accurately described his time as a Reservist.

Quinlan said the poll found that 59 percent of voters believed Blumenthal and 31 percent did not when he said he “misspoke,” not lied, about his war record.

The poll showed Blumenthal leading the endorsed Republican, Linda McMahon, 55 percent to 40 percent. A Rasmussen poll last week showed the race much tighter, with Blumenthal leading McMahon by just three percentage points, 48 percent to 45 percent. Quinlan said the poll was the first the campaign conducted testing Blumenthal against McMahon.

Quinlan said the Blumenthal campaign did not ask any questions to see if voters had been misled over the years into believing Blumenthal was a Vietnam veteran.

The poll was conducted Wednesday and Thursday, following Blumenthal’s nationally televised press conference in which he expressed regret, but refused to apologize.

On Sunday morning, The Hartford Courant’s editorial page suggested that an apology would go a long way toward defusing the controversy.

The newspaper quoted New Haven Mayor John DeStefano: ” ‘Say you’re sorry. Mean it. And move on.’ Voters who know him will move on as well, the mayor predicted. Mr. DeStefano is not alone in advising Mr. Blumenthal to apologize. It’s good advice. It’s a hard word to say, but if genuinely conveyed, people are likely to understand.”

On Sunday night, the campaign emailed an apology to a reporter at the newspaper, though it has yet to broadly distribute the apology.

On Monday, he apologized in person to a handful of reporters, including Paul Bass of the New Haven Independent, at a ribbon cutting at a shelter for homeless veterans in New Haven. The press was notified of his plans to attend the ribbon-cutting by the shelter, not his campaign.

“I want to say I made a mistake and I’m sorry to anyone who may have taken offense,” he said, according to the Independent, which also posted video of his remarks. “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.”