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Linda McMahon bets on Vietnam attack in CT-Senate race

From the moment the New York Times reported back in May that Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal had misstated -- at best -- his record of service in Vietnam, everyone in the political world had been waiting to see when (and how) former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon (R) would use it in the context of the state's Senate race.

That day has come.

McMahon's newest ad -- entitled "What Else?" -- goes right at Blumenthal on his past statements on Vietnam and tries to use them as evidence that he will say or do just about anything on the campaign trail.

"Would you lie about serving in a war?" the ad's narrator asks before a clip of Blumenthal from March 2008 is shown in which the Democrat says: "We have learned something very important since the days when I served in Vietnam." (He never actually served in the country.)

The ad then moves to a previously unreleased video clip from 2003 where Blumenthal says that "when we returned we sought nothing of this gratitude" -- again implying that he had served in the war zone.

"If he lied about Vietnam, what else is he lying about," the narrator asks at the ad's close.

It's a jarring commercial -- and a major gamble for the McMahon campaign. (Worth noting: McMahon and Blumenthal will face off in a debate tonight that has now become must-see TV for political junkies.)

Blumenthal's great strength in Connecticut politics is that his long service -- he was elected to his current post in 1990 -- has built a level of trust with Nutmeg State voters that few other politicians in the country enjoy.

It's why he was able to weather the initial storm over his Vietnam comments with relatively little political damage inflicted.

And, even as the race has tightened considerably over recent months -- a Quinnipiac University poll conducted at the end of September showed Blumenthal at 49 percent to McMahon's 46 percent -- the Democrat has retained very strong numbers on the "honest and trustworthy" question.

A mid-September Q poll showed that 57 percent of likely voters viewed Blumenthal as "honest and trustworthy" while 36 percent said he was not.

That same poll showed that 60 percent of likely voters said Blumenthal's past misstatements on Vietnam would not make a difference in their vote this fall while 37 percent said it made them less likely to vote for him and one percent said it made them more likely to vote for him.

The Blumenthal side pointed to those numbers as evidence that Connecticut voters have largely processed the story and moved on. "It's another desperate attack from a losing campaign with nothing to say," said Blumenthal campaign manager Mindy Myers about the McMahon ad.

The question that the ad raises is whether -- with only one month to go before the fall election -- voters now care more about Blumenthal's statements about Vietnam.

To win the race, McMahon must find a way to undermine the aura of honesty and trustworthiness that surrounds Blumenthal. The Democrat clearly handed Republicans an opportunity to do just that with the Vietnam issue but, to date, he has been able to withstand any significant erosion of his political support as a result.

Voters are now -- finally! -- paying close attention to races across the country and McMahon is clearly hoping that an attentive audience will change how Blumenthal is regarded by Connecticut voters. The next week (or so) of the race should give us our answer to that question.

By Chris Cillizza  | October 4, 2010; 12:34 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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