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Facing Afghanistan Vet Opponent, Roy Blunt Hit Over Draft Deferments

Blunt received three student deferments, a part of his record the Kansas City Star said he and his office had never revealed. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated: 3:17 p.m. |  Democrats on Wednesday unveiled a new line of attack against Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, highlighting a report about the powerful Republican's draft deferments during the Vietnam War.  

As the 20-year lawmaker faces a re-election challenge by Democrat Jason Kander — Missouri's secretary of state and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan – the Kansas City Star released a report that found Blunt received three student deferments, a part of his biography the paper said Blunt and his office had not revealed before.  During a weekly conference call with Missouri reporters, it was clear the issue had caught the attention of Blunt's home-state press corps. Blunt attempted to shrug off the story and said he never misled anyone about his military service.  

“I don’t think there’s any real news there,” he said. “Anytime anyone asked me about that, I would have said I had student deferments, and then was included in the first year of the lottery.”  

The issues of draft deferments is not new to campaigns. In former Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ Senate race in 2002, for example, Democrats unsuccessfully tried to use the issue to disqualify him. The issue was unsuccessfully used in ads against Vice President Dick Cheney in 2004 . And already this election cycle , the issue of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s deferments has been raised by his opponents.  

But it is new for Blunt. His deferments were not widely known in the state where he has been a prominent figure since the early 1990s. And Kander's allies — from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic veterans groups such as VoteVets — pounced on the news to highlight their own candidate's volunteer service as they try to turn the issue of national security against Blunt.  

Kander, in a statement, said the revelation is “personally disappointing” and accused Blunt of  “decades misleading his state and country about his draft record" during his four decades in Missouri elected office.  

“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,” Kander said. “Senator Blunt owes all Missourians an explanation for his actions and veterans an apology for insulting their sacrifice.”  

Blunt, declined to respond to Kander’s criticism, saying, “I don’t have anything to say to anything Secretary Kander has to say about most things, including this.” Instead, he highlighted his work in the Senate on veterans issues and an award given to him on Monday by the Missouri chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.  

In a statement provided by Blunt's campaign, Dewey M. Riehn, a Vietnam veteran and member of the Missouri VFW, said he knew of Blunt's deferments, but, "even though he was never in the military, there has been no stronger advocate and champion for our veterans."  

The Missouri Senate race is rated Favored Republican by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call.  

Contact Yokley at EliYokley@RollCall.com or on Twitter at @EYokley.

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