(Updated 11:20 a.m.) The latest Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters gives Republican Linda McMahon a slight edge over Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy.
The poll of 1,472 voters with a 2.6 percent margin of error shows 49 percent of voters support McMahon, the former wrestling CEO, while 46 percent support Murphy, the youthful congressman from the 5th District.
Quinnipiac Poll Director Doug Schwartz described the race as “too-close-to-call,” but pointed out that McMahon has been gaining with women voters, a group she struggled with in 2010.
“Her edge is due to her double-digit lead among independent voters and being close among women,” Schwartz said.
According to the poll, 47 percent of voters now have a favorable opinion of McMahon, while just 35 percent have an unfavorable opinion.
“McMahon’s 54 – 42 percent lead among men swamps Murphy’s small 50 – 46 percent lead among women,” Schwartz said. “McMahon leads 88 – 10 percent among Republicans and 55 – 40 percent among independent voters, while Murphy takes Democrats 82 – 16 percent.”
McMahon also leads among all income groups, except voters making $50,000 to $100,000 per year. Voters under 35 years old back Murphy 51 – 43 percent, while McMahon leads 54 – 42 percent among voters 35 to 54 years old. Voters over 55 are split 48 – 48 percent.
But there are still 32 percent voters who have not heard enough about Murphy to form an opinion. McMahon has been working hard since before the party primaries at defining Murphy by using his public hearing attendance record during his first term against him, painting him as an absentee politician. Murphy, who doesn’t have the deep pockets McMahon has, has been doing his best to convey that his voting record was 97 percent during that same time period.
“This was always going to be a tough race, and we don’t take anything for granted and neither should McMahon,” Taylor Lavender, Murphy’s spokeswoman, said. “She’s spent her whole career getting rich at the expense of her own employees and at the expense of Connecticut jobs. Now she’s dumped over $65 million into a marketing campaign to try to fool voters into thinking she’s something she’s not.”
McMahon’s position as former head of the WWE was viewed as a liability in her 2010 contest against Richard Blumenthal and even though she spent $50 million on that race she lost the race by more than 100,000 votes.
“McMahon has worked on her image in the last two years, and it shows,” Schwartz said. “Voters like her more now than they did when she faced Richard Blumenthal in 2010.”
Schwartz warned that this poll can’t be compared to previous ones because it’s the first poll of likely voters. Twenty-two percent of those surveyed were Republicans, 33 percent were Democrats, and 40 percent were Independents.
The same poll shows President Barack Obama leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, 52 percent to 45 percent.
The gender gap is yawning with women backing Obama 59 – 38 percent while men back Romney 53 – 45 percent. Independent voters are divided with 49 percent for Romney and 47 percent for Obama.
Schwartz opined that it may be difficult for Murphy to ride Obama’s coattails even though he has a 7-point lead against Romney.
“This smaller than expected margin for Obama could affect the Senate race.The Murphy campaign is hoping to benefit from Obama’s coattails, but right now they are not very long,” Schwartz said.
In June, “looking at registered voters Chris Murphy had a comfortable lead over McMahon,” Schwartz said. “The key is McMahon’s ability to reintroduce herself to Connecticut voters.”
She’s dominated the airwaves and the ads appear to be working, Schwartz said.
In the past McMahon has struggled with high negatives, Schwartz said.
“So she is doing better in favorability. Voters do like her more than they did in 2010.”
While he wouldn’t characterize Murphy’s campaign strategy, Schwartz did say, “whatever she’s doing is working.”
He said when asked if McMahon cares about the needs and problems of “people like you” 56 percent said “yes” and 35 percent said “no” which is an improvement over past polls of registered voters. Asked the same question about Murphy the response was 50 percent said “yes” and 36 percent said “no.”
He said Murphy’s campaign has to be hoping that Obama being at the top of the ticket will increase turnout amonger younger voters, minority voters, and voters who make between $50,000 and $100,000 a year.