An embattled Richard Blumenthal was endorsed for U.S. Senate by acclamation Friday night after his only opponent for the Democratic nomination withdrew more than halfway through a roll call vote.
In his acceptance speech, Blumenthal cast himself as a fighter, both for Connecticut and for a candidacy roiled by the week’s stunning controversy over his Vietnam-era military record.
“We’re in a fight this year, a tough fight,” Blumenthal said. “I want to make clear from the start – to everyone inside this hall and everyone beyond – I will never be outworked, never be intimidated and never stop fighting for the people of Connecticut.”
Delegates cheered, but the moment felt flat to many in the Connecticut Expo Center in Hartford. The surprise concession by his only opponent, Merrick Alpert, prompted confusion in the hall.
“Dick wasn’t here. It happened so quickly,” said Nancy DiNardo, the Democratic state chairwoman.
Delegates started exiting after Alpert withdrew and DiNardo declared Blumenthal the endorsed candidate, resolving the night’s only drama: Would Blumenthal suffer the indignity of facing a primary?
“The drama went out of the room, the energy,” said Rep. Shawn T. Johnston, D-Thompson. “It became clear in 15 minutes that wasn’t going to happen.”
Alpert was shunned by most delegations, although he drew 17 of Hartford’s 65 delegates and 8 of Greenwich’s 26. Alpert, who had savaged Blumenthal in recent days, telling Hartford delegates that Blumenthal was in a “free fall,” endorsed the nominee.
“When you speak, I listen,” he told the convention delegates Friday night. “I look forward in November to voting for Richard Blumenthal, who will be the next senator for Connecticut.”
At 8 p.m., DiNardo named Blumenthal the party’s nominee.
Blumenthal, 64, the state’s most popular Democrat, was cruising to an uneventful convention until the New York Times posted a story Monday night saying Blumenthal, a stateside Marine Reservist during the Vietnam war, had described himself on occasion as a Vietnam veteran.
He took the stage at 8:10 p.m. to the defiant Tom Petty tune, “I won’t back down.”
“You all have been hearing what my wife, Cynthia, has been telling me for almost 30 years, that I am not perfect. That I make mistakes,” Blumenthal said.
But he never tried to explain how, even while being careful in most settings about noting he never served in Vietnam, he came to occasionally say things like, “I wore the uniform in Vietnam.”
“I have made mistakes. I regret them. I have taken responsibility,” he said. “But this campaign must be about the people of Connecticut.”
He quickly shifted the focus to the voters and what he hopes are their concerns – the economy and jobs.
“In backyards and kitchens, in offices and factories, I hear a lot of worry about jobs and the economy, and a lot of frustration with our political system. And I hear something else more ominous and alarming,” he said. “People tell me they feel Washington has forgotten them, left them voiceless and invisible.”
It was an odd refrain for an establishment Democrat, attacking a Democratic congress and White House.
“We want an economy that works for everybody — but Washington isn’t listening,” he said.
With talking points that would have won applause across town at the GOP convention, Blumenthal ridiculed the federal government.
“People look at Washington – and can’t find anyone standing up for them. What they see is a wasteland — a gigantic mess,” Blumenthal said.
“Well, you know what? My very first job was shoveling manure for my grandfather on his farm. Noisy animals and big messes don’t faze me,” Blumenthal said. “So when I hear that our political system is stuck, our government is broken, and Washington just plain stinks, I say: Give me a shovel and let me go to work.”
Some delegates crowded the stage, cheering. But empty seats were visible across the delegations.
“It’s a moment when the candidate needs to see people,” said Kevin Sullivan, the former lieutenant governor. He attributed the early departures to a desire to get to the post-convention receptions, including one sponsored by Blumenthal at the Community Boathouse on the Connecticut River.
“The moral of the story is don’t throw a party,” he said.
Leo Canty, a labor activist and delegate from Windsor, said many first-time delegates headed for their cars as soon as DiNardo pronounced Blumenthal the winner. No one announced that Blumenthal was on his way to address them.
“I think there was a misunderstanding,” he said.