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Democrat Blumenthal slips in Connecticut race: poll

By Ros Krasny

BOSTON (Reuters) - Democrat Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney general running for U.S. Senate, has lost his strong lead amid controversy that he may have exaggerated his military record, a poll said on Wednesday.

Blumenthal edged out Republican Linda McMahon by 48 percent to 45 percent, according to a telephone survey by Rasmussen Reports of 500 likely voters taken on Tuesday.

Two weeks ago, Blumenthal was up 13 points over McMahon, a political newcomer and former chief executive of professional wrestling company World Wrestling Entertainment.

The two are seeking to succeed Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd, who is retiring.

Criticism of Blumenthal has risen since The New York Times reported on Monday that in a 2008 speech, he said he had served in Vietnam. In fact, he was part of a U.S. Marine Corps Reserves unit that was not deployed overseas.

On Tuesday, Blumenthal held a news conference to defend himself, saying he had at times unintentionally "misspoken" about his service but never meant to deceive.

Blumenthal, a popular attorney general for 18 years, had been favored to win Dodd's post but controversy over his military record could boost Republican hopes of capturing the seat as they try to gain control of Congress in November elections.

Blumenthal still has an 11-point lead over Republican Rob Simmons, a former representative also seeking his party's nomination, the Rasmussen poll showed. Blumenthal held a 23-point lead over Simmons in the earlier poll.

The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan political newsletter, on Tuesday termed the Connecticut race a toss-up after earlier giving a slight edge to the Democrats.

The Rasmussen poll found 26 percent of voters, and 9 percent of Democrats, said Blumenthal should withdraw from the race. He held a 66 percent favorable rate among voters statewide down from 72 percent earlier.

Blumenthal is seen as an activist whose office has cast a wide net of legal initiatives -- taking on Wall Street, credit card lenders, drug companies and ski resorts, among others.

Both parties hold their nominating conventions on Friday and Saturday and their primaries on August 10.

Blumenthal had been heavily favored to get the party's nomination over three other Democrats. In mid-March he lead his closest challenger, former Al Gore aide Merrick Alpert, by 81 percent to 6 percent, with 13 percent undecided.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Cynthia Osterman)