It’s been quite a while since there was a political controversy surrounding a politician and Vietnam-era draft deferments, but the Kansas City Star’s Dave Helling reported this week on an unexpected flap out of Missouri.
Sen. Roy Blunt’s claims about his Vietnam-era draft record have emerged as an issue in his re-election campaign against Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat.In a news story posted online Wednesday morning, The Star reported Blunt received three draft deferments while a college student in the late 1960s. Blunt’s office did not disclose the deferments in 2015, when the newspaper specifically asked Blunt’s office about the senator’s draft history.
That last part appears to be the key. Blunt, up for re-election this year, is facing Jason Kander, widely seen as a rising star in Democratic politics, and an Army veteran who volunteered to serve in the war in Afghanistan. This dynamic prompted local media to take a fresh look at the Republican incumbent’s background when it came to military service.
When the Kansas City Star specifically asked last year about Blunt’s draft history, the senator’s office last year talked about his low draft number, but failed to mention the three draft deferments.
There’s no evidence that Blunt ever lied about his record, but for the Republican’s critics, it’s a sin of omission.
“As someone who volunteered to serve in Afghanistan, it’s personally disappointing to me that, according to today’s report, a United States’ senator would spend decades misleading his state and country about his draft record,” Kander said in a press statement. “I don’t sit in judgment of anyone who chose not to serve in Vietnam, but hiding three deferments and saying you couldn’t remember them is completely inexcusable.”
Making matters slightly worse, VoteVets.org chairman and Iraq War veteran Jon Soltz took the opportunity to emphasize Blunt’s less-than-stellar voting record on veterans’ issues.
I can’t say with confidence whether a story like this will seriously affect the race in Missouri, but it’s worth noting that Republicans, who generally assumed Blunt was a lock for re-election, have been a little antsy about his prospects. In October – more than a full year before the election – Karl Rove’s Crossroads operation spent $800,000 on a media “blitz” to bolster Blunt’s in-state support.
As we discussed at the time, Blunt, a long-time fixture in Missouri politics, might seem like a safe incumbent in a red-ish state, but he isn’t particularly popular, Kander is a credible contender, and Crossroads wouldn’t spend $800,000 unless there was some evidence that Blunt is at least somewhat vulnerable.
And perhaps now would be a good time to note that for all of the understandable interest in the two presidential nominating contests, there are 34 U.S. Senate races this year, with control of the chamber on the line. Democrats believe they have an opportunity to reclaim the majority they lost last year, and at this point, that’s not an unrealistic goal.