Republican Linda McMahon’s first advertising attack on Democrat Richard Blumenthal in the U.S. Senate race is a mailer that casts his admitted misstatements about his Vietnam-era service as calculated lies.

The mass mailing began arriving Tuesday, as Blumenthal and McMahon skipped a debate and left Republicans Rob Simmons and Peter Schiff to gently confront each other and two minor-party candidates, John Mertens and Warren Mosler.

Simmons, who suspended his campaign in May, arguably made news just for showing up and uttering a simple, declarative sentence: “I am running for the U.S. Senate.”

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Rob Simmons, left, and Peter Schiff chat at Tuesday’s debate (Mark Pazniokas)

Simmons and Schiff are competing for the GOP nomination with McMahon in the Aug. 10 primary, but McMahon already has turned to Blumenthal and the general election.

Her new mailer says that most people would have been proud to have Blumenthal’s record as a stateside Marine Reservist during Vietnam.

“But for Dick Blumenthal, the truth wasn’t enough,” the McMahon campaign says in the foldout flyer. “He lied about his military service for political gain.”

It lists five times when Blumenthal referred to service in Vietnam, which he has called misstatements. McMahon calls that explanation “a cover up.”

McMahon has donated nearly $22 million to a self-financed campaign that already is the most expensive in Connecticut history. She has promised to spend up to $50 million to win the seat held by Democrat Christopher J. Dodd for 30 years.

“After spending $20 million on the Republican primary, it’s clear Linda McMahon is going to spend the next $30 million trying to tear Dick Blumenthal down,” said Mindy Myers, his campaign manager. “But the people of Connecticut know he’s going to continue standing up for them as he always has.”

Ed Patru, the communication director for McMahon, said it is not too early to use the Vietnam controversy in an effort to chip away at the 17-percentage point lead enjoyed by Blumenthal, the state’s attorney general for nearly 20 years.

“Republicans in this state very much expect us to focus on Dick Blumenthal,” Patru said.

Simmons, who served tours in Vietnam as a U.S. Army intelligence officer and CIA agent, said after Tuesday night’s debate in Hartford that he was the Republican who could best use the Vietnam issue against Blumenthal.

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Simmons, Schiff after the debate. (Mark Pazniokas)

“I have a qualification to beat him that she doesn’t have – and he doesn’t have,” Simmons said, pulling his service ribbons from a jacket pocket. “It’s this ribbon and this ribbon and this ribbon.”

Blumenthal dropped in the polls after the Vietnam story broke, then stabilized. A Quinnipiac University poll found a majority of voters said they believed Blumenthal, whose official biography accurately describes his military service, had misspoken, not lied.

“The one issue that took Richard Blumenthal down 15 or 20 points was the issue of his Vietnam service,” Simmons said. “That issue is still out there. People are still concerned about it. It’s a character issue. It’s an issue I have and she doesn’t.”

Simmons, whose status as a candidate has been unclear after suspending his campaign and then recently resuming television ads, described himself as an active candidate at the Senate debate at Trinity College sponsored by the Federation of Connecticut Taxpayer Organizations.

“I’m Rob Simmons,” he said in his opening remarks. “I am running for the United States Senate, because I love my country, and I don’t like where it’s going.”

But Simmons was playful after the debate concerning his status: “I should have edited that old opening statement.”

During the debate, the candidates were asked about issues ranging from the economy to legalized drugs to gay rights.

Mertens, a Trinity College professor, told the crowd at least one thing they didn’t want to hear: The overall tax burden on U.S. taxpayers is not onerous at 32 percent of income, and top tax rates have dropped dramatically during the past 50 years. He said he favors making the tax structure more progressive, since the burden on the wealthiest is only 31 percent.

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Warren Mosler, John Mertens, Rob Simmons, Peter Schiff. (Mark Pazniokas)

Mosler, an entrepreneur who has flirted with runs for Congress and the presidency, took a self-administered oath to tell the truth during his opening remarks.

“First things first, I believe all candiate for office should be sworn in,” Mosler said, raising his right hand. “Now any lies are perjury and not just politics.”

Schiff, a Libertarian and free-market economist who predicted the recession, said the U.S. is facing a long economic crisis if it fails to control spending.

“If Washington won’t listen to me as a private citizen, maybe, just maybe, they will listen to me as a United States senator,” he said.

Simmons and Schiff chatted amiably after the debate. Schiff recently said he will not invest more of his own funds into this struggling campaign, generating speculation that perhaps he would endorse Simmons.

Like Simmons, Schiff has said that McMahon’s history as a co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment makes her unelectable, but Schiff said he is in the race through the primary.

“I have no intention of supporting anybody other than myself,” Schiff said. Then he laughed and added, “I would rather have Rob drop out and support me, and I’ve asked him to do that. He’s refused.”

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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