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Digging for Dirt
Opposition researchers are an accepted, if not beloved, reality of modern politics. More out in the open, they're playing big roles in 2010 races. By David Mark
Comments () | Published October 4, 2010

This spring, Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal seemed to have a clear path to the US Senate. He’d angled for an opening to Washington for years, and when longtime senator Chris Dodd announced his retirement, Blumenthal became the anointed Democratic nominee in the deep-blue Nutmeg State.

That is, until a bombshell New York Times article on May 17 detailed a series of Blumenthal speeches citing his military service during the Vietnam era. “We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” Blumenthal said at a 2008 ceremony honoring veterans and senior citizens who sent presents to soldiers overseas. “And you exemplify it. Whatever we think about the war, whatever we call it—Afghanistan or Iraq—we owe our military men and women unconditional support.”

The problem, the Times noted, was that although Blumenthal had been a member of the Marine Corps Reserve after college, he had never served in Vietnam. He obtained at least five military deferments from 1965 to 1970, including one to serve as a special assistant to Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham. Blumenthal, the Times reported, “took repeated steps that enabled him to avoid going to war.”

The revelation of Blumenthal’s misstatements threw his campaign off track and sent him scrambling to explain his military history before veterans’ groups across Connecticut.

Blumenthal’s Republican Senate opponent, Linda McMahon, quickly took credit for having fed the damaging information to the Times.

“McMahon Strikes Blumenthal in NYT Article,” the McMahon camp proclaimed on its Web site that day. “The Blumenthal Bombshell comes at the end of more than 2 months of deep, persistent research by Republican Linda McMahon’s Senate campaign.”

McMahon, the wealthy former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, told a Hartford television station, “I can tell you we had some research, we shared it, and I think we accomplished the story.”

Less than two weeks later, the Washington Post reported that Republican Illinois congressman and Senate candidate Mark Kirk had admitted embellishing his military record. Kirk claimed to have received the US Navy’s Intelligence Officer of the Year award for his service with NATO forces during the Serbian conflict in the late 1990s; a different citation was awarded to his whole unit.

The story made clear the source of the unflattering information about Kirk: “The Post’s inquiries were sparked by complaints from a representative of state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Kirk’s Democratic opponent in the Illinois Senate race.”

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 10/04/2010 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles