Even for a small state, where politicians understand that yesterday’s opponent might be tomorrow’s ally, this one is a bit of a head-scratcher: Rob Simmons is volunteering to help U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal reach out to Vietnam veterans.
Simmons, a Republican former congressman and Vietnam veteran who ran for the U.S. Senate last year, says he has offered to help Blumenthal with any lingering difficulties the senator might have over misstatements made about his Vietnam-era military service.
“I’ve been a little concerned that Sen. Blumenthal has some issues with the Vietnam veterans,” said Simmons, who encountered Blumenthal at a recent Vietnam veterans event in Cheshire. “I’d like to see what I can do.”
Blumenthal’s office confirmed Monday evening that Simmons approached one of the senator’s staff members and offered to help with veterans’ outreach.
“Sen. Blumenthal is eager to work with anyone who shares his dedication to improving life for our veterans in Connecticut and across the country,” said Kate Hansen, a press aide.
How eager is less than clear.
Nothing has come of the offer, nor does Blumenthal’s staff acknowledge a particular need for assistance with Vietnam veterans. Despite last year’s controversy, which threatened for a time to upend his campaign, Blumenthal has not avoided Vietnam events.
A year ago, when Simmons had hopes of being the Republican nominee who would face Blumenthal in the general election, Simmons tried to capitalize on Blumenthal’s Vietnam controversy.
The New York Times reported in May that Blumenthal, a stateside Marine Reservist during the war whose official biography accurately portrayed his military record, on at least two occasions had referred to being in Vietnam. Blumenthal eventually apologized, but he first offered only regrets.
“I am unsatisfied with Attorney General Blumenthal’s comments,” Simmons said a year ago. “While I’m not surprised that he ‘regrets’ that his misstatements have been called to the public’s attention, what he owes is an apology to the veterans, who served and sacrificed in Vietnam.”
Simmons served 3½ years in Vietnam as a U.S. Army intelligence officer and a CIA agent. He later served as a U.S. Senate staffer, a state legislator and a three-term member of Congress, losing in 2006 to Democrat Joe Courtney.
His relationship with elements of the Connecticut Republican Party have been strained since he lost last year’s GOP primary, and his overture to help Blumenthal, a Democrat, may signal that Simmons no longer harbors thoughts of a Senate run in 2012.
Simmons refused to endorse Linda McMahon after she won the Republican primary last year. He suggested that the party had opted for McMahon’s wealth over his public record.
McMahon, who made a fortune from World Wrestling Entertainment, spent $50 million on her primary and general-election campaigns, more than double any previous campaign in Connecticut.
She is weighing another run next year for an open seat. Joseph I. Lieberman, the Democrat-turned-independent, is retiring after 24 years in the Senate.
Simmons said he had no agenda in offering to help Blumenthal, other than an interest in helping a fellow veteran, Julio Ramos of California, work towards a presidential proclamation declaring March 30 as a national “welcome home day” for Vietnam vets.
California, Connecticut and other states have made that designation in state law.
Ramos has been seeking an audience with the administration of President Obama, and Simmons said Blumenthal could be helpful. Simmons said he worked with Blumenthal when he was a congressman and Blumenthal was attorney general.
“What a concept, a Republican and a Democrat working together,” Simmons said.
There is another twist to his effort to help Ramos. The veteran is a constituent of U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., and Sanchez and Ramos both participated in a welcome-home event that Simmons helped host in Cheshire.
Sanchez is married to Jim Sullivan, a former constituent of Simmons’. In 2004, Sullivan also was the Democrat who unsuccessfully opposed Simmons’ re-election.