And now the main event: Linda McMahon vs. Richard Blumenthal

On the first day of the general-election campaign, Democrat Richard Blumenthal and Republican Linda McMahon set out to establish competing narratives in their race for Connecticut’s open U.S. Senate seat.

Blumenthal reinforced an image cultivated over 20 years as attorney general with a new ad in which he asserts, “The people of Connecticut know me, and one thing they know about me, for sure, is that I will fight for them.”

In a mailing that began arriving Tuesday, McMahon sounded a counter theme she will develop and amplify with the most expensive campaign in state history: He’s lied about his military record, and “He’s not who we thought he was.”

Day 1: McMahon Bumenthal 8-12-10

Day 1: Linda McMahon meets a baby, Richard Blumenthal confronts an attack mailer as the general election race for U.S. Senate begins (Nicolas Kemper/Jacqueline Rabe)

With her victory Tuesday night in a three-way primary for the Republican nomination, the McMahon campaign has a solitary focus: To sow doubt about one of the of the state’s most familiar politicians.

Her opening is Blumenthal’s admission that on at least five occasions, he incorrectly referred to serving in Vietnam, when he meant during Vietnam. He was a stateside Marine Reservist during the war.

“He calls them ‘misspeaks.’ I think I would call them more the inability to tell the truth over a period of time, relative to Vietnam,” McMahon said at a breakfast joint in North Haven called “Scotty the Omelet King.”

The first phase of Blumenthal’s campaign is to draw on the reservoir of goodwill he has established, which has helped him maintain a 10-percentage point lead in the polls over McMahon, despite the Vietnam story.

His campaign eventually will try to drive up McMahon’s negatives, focusing on her years as the chief executive and co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment, the Stamford-based company that has made her rich enough to personally spend $24 million on her campaign so far, including another $2 million added to her treasury last week.

Potential fodder includes WWE’s history of steroid abuse, plus old programming that that featured violence against women.

McMahon’s challenge in undermining Blumethal’s image was evident at the Townhouse Diner in Hamden, where a waitress was eager to greet Blumenthal, who campaigned Wednesday with his 18-year-old son, David.

“I want a picture,” said Rose Mangino of Wallingford. “My husband is never going to believe this.”

The exchange was exactly what the campaign wanted.

“I have been to every nook and cranny in the state of Connecticut, and the people know me,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal said he will respond to any McMahon attack.

“I’m a fighter,” Blumenthal said.

His talking points for the day were simple.

He is a fighter. And he will stand up against “special interests” and “politics as usual.” In fact, nearly any question posed to Blumenthal on Wednesday yielded some version of that answer.

“I will not hesitate to set the record straight, and people are tired of politics as usual,” Blumenthal said. “And they want someone who will stand up against special interests, against giveaways, against Washington failing to listen and work for them.”

“You know, people are genuinely fed up with politics as usual, as they’ve seen it,” Blumenthal said. “They want change, something different, which is what I’m offering – someone who will fight for them and stand up for them against special interests.”

The McMahon campaign said Blumenthal no longer has the high ground when it comes to special interests, since he now is accepting donations from political action committees.

“Dick Blumenthal today is crusading against special interests in a new TV ad that was paid for – at least in part – with money given to him by special interests,” said Ed Patru, the media strategist for McMahon. “That’s hypocrisy.”

Blumenthal said voters can trust him.

“People in Connecticut know me, and they know my record. And they know I am going to be fighting for them, no matter who donates to my campaign, no matter how much the money is,” Blumenthal said. “They know my actions over 20 years speak louder than words. I am a fighter for the people of Connecticut. And I can’t fight this campaign with my arms tied behind my back.

A featured stop for Blumenthal was at the Machinists hall in East Hartford. He supported the union’s successful fight to uphold a contract provision that has stopped, at least temporarily, Pratt & Whitney from relocating jobs from plants in East Hartford and Cheshire to other states.

“You know I get results when I fight,” Blumenthal told two dozen union members, as television cameras rolled.

“This is Blumenthal’s house, any time he wants to come here,” said Juan Gelabert, the president of Local 1746.