Female voters were a deciding factor in the 2010 U.S. Senate contest and they’re are not being taken for granted this year by Democrat Chris Murphy and Republican Linda McMahon.

The gender gap, which McMahon had begun to close after the August primary, is beginning to open back up again according to recent polling data.

The University of Connecticut’s poll last week showed Murphy gaining ground among women voters with 50 percent saying they support him and 32 percent backing McMahon. The poll found Murphy’s lead is even more significant among college educated women where he holds a 55 to 28 percent edge over McMahon.

“When we polled on this race last month, there wasn’t much of a gender gap,” Jennifer Necci Dineen, Uconn’s poll director, said. “The campaigns have included more of a focus on issues that are typically important to women voters, though, and that seems to be helping Murphy.”

Quinnipiac University will be releasing its polling data Wednesday, but its Oct. 4 poll showed Murphy with a 50 to 44 percent lead over McMahon among female voters.

The quest for female votes continued on Tuesday. Murphy held a rally in Bushnell Park with three female U.S. senators, the head of Planned Parenthood‘s Action Fund, and a nurse from Hartford Hospital, while McMahon launched two new television advertisements accusing Murphy of paying women on his congressional staff less than the men.

The ads accuse Murphy of paying his female staff 50 percent less than his male staff. They also accuse him of being “anti-woman.”

Asked to respond to the ads which he hasn’t seen, Murphy replied “the lies are going to be endless coming from Linda McMahon down the home stretch of this campaign.”

“Linda McMahon is falling behind in this campaign because the issues are what is finally determining votes,” Murphy said. “And the women of this state are realizing that they can’t elect a senator who spent their career demeaning women to make profit.”

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He said he thinks McMahon is getting “desperate” at this point in the campaign.

Murphy’s campaign said in the congressional office “employees receive equal pay for equal work regardless of gender.”

Records shows that full-time female staff in the office made an average of about $46,000 in 2011, while male employees made an average of about $68,000.

The highest paid employee on its congressional staff is Francis Creighton who makes about $144,000 a year, and the highest paid employee on its campaign staff is Karyn Brockman, its finance director.

“Since McMahon wants to talk about treatment of female employees, she may want to think about the women who worked for her who were forced to strip naked, bark like dogs, and were subjected to simulated rape for the amusement of their male viewers,” Ben Marter, Murphy’s campaign spokesman, said.

But McMahon’s campaign maintains this is just another instance where Murphy says one thing and does another.

“Chris Murphy has been insulting women in his office by paying them less than men, and now he’s insulting the women of Connecticut by lying about his record and Linda McMahon’s,” Corry Bliss, McMahon campaign manager, said.

He said when Murphy had a chance as chairman of the legislature’s Public Health Committee to move forward with legislation that would have mandated emergency contraception for rape victims he let the legislation die. The legislation later passed after Murphy was in Congress.

But McMahon isn’t free from criticism on the issue of emergency contraception for rape victims.

“I don’t think that the government should overreach. I mean, it’s the separation of church and state, in my opinion,” McMahon told the Courant‘s editorial board. “I think that a religious institution has the right to decide what its policies would be in that case.”

At the time she seemed to be unaware it was mandated by Connecticut law, but her campaign staff said she assumed all questions were being directed at her as a candidate for federal office.

At the rally supporter’s touted Murphy’s record on women’s issues from health care to equal pay.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, the first female senator elected to the U.S. Senate, said as female senators they work on “macro issues and macaroni and cheese issues.” She said Murphy worked with U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro in the House on getting the Lily Ledbetter Equal Pay Act passed and she wants him standing shoulder-to-shoulder with her in the Senate when it comes up for reauthorization.

“Linda proves the point that just because you wear lipstick and high heels doesn’t necessarily make you a women’s rights advocate,” Mikulski said. “You know, against Blumenthal, she ran as Darth Vader. And now she’s invented herself somewhere between Ann Romney and Oprah, but we know the real Linda McMahon.”

Connecticut knows what Murphy would do in the Senate because he has a record that’s “reliable and undeniable,” she said.

“You can’t have somebody who says ‘no comment’,” Mikulski said referring to McMahon’s statement about Social Security after the fourth debate. “If you have ‘no comment’ you have no business being in the Senate.”

Mikulski was joined by U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire at the rally, which attracted everyone from First Lady Cathy Malloy to former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz who lost the primary to Murphy.