Tom Foley, the only candidate airing television commercials, has opened a lead in the Republican race for governor, while Ned Lamont and Dannel P. Malloy top the Democratic field, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

But the two gubernatorial contests remain wide open, with 50 percent of Republican voters and 44 percent of Democrats saying they are undecided.

In the race for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, the best known candidate, remains in the lead, despite questions about whether she meets the minimum statutory qualifications for the job.

The biggest loser in the new poll is Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s proposal to broaden legalized gambling with electronic Keno games in bars and restaurants. It is overwhelmingly opposed, 70 percent to 27 percent.

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In the race for governor, Foley was supported by 30 percent of Republicans, up from 17 percent in January. No other candidate attracted more than 4 percent. He is a Greenwich businessman and a former U.S. ambassador.

“Even Foley, however, is largely unknown to Republicans and the big winner is still undecided,” said Douglas Schwartz, the director of the poll. Foley was unknown to 57 percent of Republicans.

Lt. Gov. Michael C. Fedele lost half his support, dropping from 8 percent to 4 percent among Republicans. Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton dropped from 6 percent to 4 percent.

“We are flattered and encouraged by the results of this poll,” Foley said.

But an adviser to Oz Griebel, one of Foley’s Republican competitors, suggested that Foley was getting a disappointing return for his television investment.

“As a former CEO, I know that running a business and making substantial investments coupled with significant market saturation — and not being able to demonstrate results — is troubling,” said Ramani Ayer, the former head of The Hartford.

Lamont, another Greenwich businessman whose political profile was established by his run for U.S. Senate in 2006, leads Malloy, a former Stamford mayor who ran for governor four years ago, 28 percent to 18 percent. No other Democrat topped 4 percent.

With no one on the air yet, the Democratic race is relatively static, compared to the GOP contest. Lamont’s support increased by a statistically insignificant one percentage point since January, while Malloy picked up 7 points.

“This is the third poll in a row where Ned is up by double digits over his closest challenger,” said Justine Sessions, Lamont’s spokeswoman.”Ned’s business background and his focus on creating jobs are resonating with voters, and this comes before campaign season has even kicked into high gear.

But Lamont’s lead over Malloy also has shrunk from 16 points in January to 10 points today. Two months ago, Lamont led 27 percent to 11 percent.

“Is Ned really highlighting a poll that shows his lead shrinking? That’s an interesting strategy. But what’s more interesting is the fact that Dan increased his vote share by 64% without spending a dime on paid communications. Ned’s numbers didn’t move,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, a Malloy strategist.

With most of the campaigning so far has been directed to potential convention delegates, no Democrat has yet engaged the broader electorate. Any early poll provides limited insight into primary voters, Schwartz has said. Quinnipiac did not attempt to screen its respondents for likely primary voters.

Both parties will endorse candidates at nominating conventions in May, when any candidate who wins 15 percent of the delegate vote automatically qualifies for a primary. Candidates also can petition for a spot on the ballot. The primaries are Aug. 10.

With Rell not seeking re-election, there will be an open seat in the governor’s race for the first time since 1994, when Lowell P. Weicker Jr. did not run after one term. The result is more than a dozen candidates either running or exploring a run this year.

Eight Republicans will share the stage tonight in a debate to be televised live on Connecticut NBC at 7 p.m. They are: Foley, Fedele, Boughton, Griebel, Newington Mayor Jeffrey Wright, Chester First Selectman Tom Marsh, former Congressman Larry DeNardis and Christopher Duffy Acevedo.

Six Democrats will debate Friday at 7 p.m.: Lamont, Malloy, Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman, former state Rep. Juan Figueroa, Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi and Waterbury Mayor Michael Jarjura.

The new poll found Rell’s approval rating dipping from 64 percent to 59 percent. The legislature’s approval rating dropped two points to 28 percent, a new low.

Bysiewicz is maintaining a healthy lead in the Democratic contest for attorney general, even as she has had to go to court to seek a ruling declaring her qualified to run. She also has had to explain why her office has maintained what appear to be political files on her contacts with voters.

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“Despite negative headlines, Susan Bysiewicz is still way ahead in the Democratic primary for attorney general,” Schwartz said. “One has to wonder how long she can maintain her big lead if the various controversies surrounding her campaign continue.”

She leads former state Senate Majority Leader George Jepsen, 54 percent to 10 percent, with no other candidate backed by more than 2 percent and 31 percent undecided.

State Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, was preferred for attorney general by 13 percent of Republicans, trailed by Martha Dean at 9 percent and John Pavia with 8 percent. SIxty-six percent had no preference.

The poll is based on a telephone survey of 1,451 self-identified registered voters from March 9 to 15. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.

The Republican sample of 387 voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. The Democratic sample of 549 has a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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