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Connecticut’s Fourth District Congressional race between Republican incumbent US Rep. Chris Shays and Democratic challenger Jim Himes is in a dead heat, according to this poll released Monday by the University of Connecticut.

The poll of 501 likely voters conducted between Oct. 8 and Oct. 15 shows each of the candidates receiving 44 percent of the vote. About 10 percent of those polled had yet to make up their minds and of those that did indicate a preference for one of the candidates, 18 percent reported they may still change their minds.

Sam Best, director of the UConn Center for Survey Research and Analysis, said the most important thing to remember about this race is that “it’s very fluid.” He said there’s a lot of room for change over the next few weeks as voters react to a number of campaign events and debates.

The poll showed sharp divides existed depending on where likely voters resided within the district. Likely voters in larger cities like Bridgeport, Stamford, and Norwalk support Himes 54 percent to 35 percent, whereas voters in more suburban areas of the district support Shays 51 percent to 36 percent.

Also, Best said as the economy continues to worsen voters are more likely to support Himes. And the economy is by far most important issue to those polled.

The economy was the most important issue for more than half of those polled, followed by the War in Iraq at 9 percent.

“This is a tough political climate for Shays to run for re-election in,” Best said. “Iraq is no longer a pressing issue in the Fourth Congressional District,” like it was in 2006. But Best said if the economy continues to do poorly things do “not look good for Chris Shays.”

However, Shays has “an important life jacket,” Best said. He said about half of those polled approved of the job he’s doing. Of those polled, 22 percent strongly approved of Shays’ job performance while 30 percent somewhat approved.

The presidential race also poses a challenge for Shays to overcome. Of those polled 54 percent support Barack Obama, 34 percent support John McCain, and 12 percent are undecided.

If those voting for Obama continue to vote the Democratic party line Himes will benefit, however, the poll showed Shays has more success in getting voters to split the ticket than Himes. Best said 20 percent of Obama supporters intended to split their ticket and vote for Shays and only 9 percent of McCain supporters intended to split their ticket and vote for Himes.