Five keys to following the Richard Blumenthal story

If the Connecticut Senate candidate doesn't survive, who will replace him? Hint: It won't be Chris Dodd

Topics: 2010 Elections, War Room,

Five keys to following the Richard Blumenthal storyFILE - In this Jan. 6, 2010 file photo, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announces his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the retirement of fellow Democrat Christopher Dodd in Hartford, Conn. Blumenthal is defending himself against a New York Times report he misstated his military service in Vietnam. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)(Credit: Jessica Hill)

Richard Blumenthal will hold a press conference this afternoon to defend himself against a New York Times report that questioned his military service claims.

The story’s publication has raised concerns among national Democrats that a seat that essentially represents their Senate majority’s last line of defense might suddenly be in play. It has also sparked chatter that Blumenthal, himself recruited into the race to replace a doomed Democratic standard-bearer (Chris Dodd), might end up dropping out.

Here are five things to watch as the story unfolds:

1. Will another shoe drop? Right now, it appears that Blumenthal can mount a decent defense. Others have stepped forward to say that he’s accurately described his military record in the past. If it looks like he’s guilty only of misspeaking once or twice (or of getting a little carried away once or twice, sort of like Hillary Clinton’s Tuzla airport story), then Blumenthal’s support within his party should be safe — and his gigantic lead in the polls should be more than enough to cushion whatever hit he takes with the general public. But if more examples of apparent embellishment emerge and a pattern takes shape, the fallout will be severe. 

2. The convention: Connecticut’s Democratic convention takes place this weekend. Blumenthal faces a challenge from Merrick Alpert, a little-known businessman who originally entered the race when Dodd was still in it. To qualify for the August primary ballot, candidates need to secure 15 percent support from delegates.

Before today, no one expected Alpert to meet this threshold. His campaign against Dodd left a bitter taste with some, but the main factor is Blumenthal’s immense popularity with the party regulars who will populate the convention. He’s been the attorney general for 20 years and has been relentlessly attentive to local party activists and organizations. They will be sympathetic to his defense, especially since it appears that he accurately characterized his military record on multiple occasions.

The consensus is that it would take more revelations between now and Friday (when the Senate race will be taken up at the convention) to prompt delegates to switch to Alpert and qualify him for the ballot. If Alpert fails to meet the threshold, he could still theoretically petition his way onto the primary ballot.

3. The first poll: Democratic leaders in Washington and Connecticut will pay close attention to the first gauge of Blumenthal’s public standing after this firestorm. It’s one thing to get the benefit of the doubt from party regulars, but will the general public buy his explanation? Or will, in a year of intense voter anger, even the whiff of suspicion be enough to turn them against him?

In a mid-March poll, Blumenthal crushed Linda McMahon, currently the most likely GOP nominee, by 33 points. If his lead is still in that ballpark after the public has absorbed this week’s news, then Blumenthal should be home free (assuming there are no further revelations). But a significant cut in that lead in the next week or two would make Democrats very nervous — and any further erosion after that would send them into a panic.

4. Other options: Remember that Blumenthal was supposed to be his party’s insurance policy. When Dodd’s poll numbers collapsed, party leaders were anxious to swap him out for Blumenthal, who’d racked up enviable popularity as A.G. But do they have an insurance policy for their insurance policy?

If there does end up being a replacement for Blumenthal, two things seem certain: 1) It won’t be Alpert, even if he qualifies for the primary ballot; and 2) the replacement will only step forward after Blumenthal steps out; no Democratic heavyweight will enter the primary against him. It’s hard to see Blumenthal exiting the race, of course. But if it ends up looking like he can’t win, there will be pressure from his party’s leaders to do so.

There is no obvious replacement candidate. Rep. Chris Murphy, an ambitious second-term Democrat, hasn’t done much to hide his desire for a Senate promotion. Surely, he’d seek to succeed Blumenthal on the ballot. But he’d have competition from his House colleagues. Rosa DeLauro, who has been in the House since 1991, also wouldn’t mind being in the Senate — and is said to be irked by Murphy’s aggressive maneuvering. Joe Courtney, who beat Simmons in ’06 for a seat representing the state’s eastern half, might be interested, too — and would have appeal for the party’s progressive base. And John Larson, now the No. 4 Democrat in the House, would also be in the mix.

Dodd’s name has also been mentioned in some corners. Might he now rethink his decision to get out? Uh, no. Even if Blumenthal were to become radioactive, Dodd still wouldn’t be an attractive option for Democrats, given his awful (and seemingly irreversible) poll numbers. And Dodd (who vowed to stand by Blumenthal today) knows this: It’s why he dropped out of the race. Nothing has happened since then to make Dodd more electable. (But, interestingly, the presidency of the University of Connecticut has unexpectedly opened, and Dodd may end up pursuing it.)

5. Blumenthal’s reaction: Those who know him describe Blumenthal as unusually sensitive to criticism, especially in the media. He has, they say, labored intensely through the years to insulate himself from exactly the kind of story the Times just published. Even if there are no further revelations of apparent embellishment, Blumenthal is in for a rough ride from the press for the next week — at least. He’s never dealt with anything like this before. How will he react?

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>