A new poll shows that Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Richard Blumenthal is weathering his military-record controversy and that Republican Linda McMahon’s candidacy is provoking doubts among Connecticut voters.

A Quinnipiac University poll released today has Blumenthal leading McMahon, 56 percent to 31 percent, a modest tightening of the race since the university’s last poll in March, when his lead was 61 percent to 28 percent.

Republican Tom Foley and Democrat Ned Lamont are leading their primaries for governor.

Douglas Schwartz 5-27-10

Douglas Schwartz explains latest poll. (Mark Pazniokas)

A majority of voters, 54 percent, say they believe Blumenthal’s explanation that he misspoke on occasion about his Vietnam-era service record, while 38 percent say he lied when referring to service in Vietnam. He was a stateside Marine Reservist during the war.

“It looks like Connecticut voters forgive Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, or feel that there is nothing to forgive in the Vietnam service flap.  While he has taken a hit with voters, his poll numbers were so high to begin with that he still maintains a commanding lead over Linda McMahon,” said Douglas Schwartz, the poll’s director.

More troubling for McMahon, the former chief executive officer of World Wrestling Entertainment, is that voters still find Blumenthal more trustworthy, despite disclosures that he had misrepresented his military service in a half-dozen public appearances.

“What is surprising is that McMahon gets no bounce from her Republican convention victory.  Her negatives went up 13 points from 26 percent unfavorable to 39 percent unfavorable. The more voters get to know McMahon the less they like her,” Schwartz said.

Thirty-three percent of voters say that Blumenthal’s statements about his Vietnam era military service make them less likely to vote for him, but 61 percent say it doesn’t make a difference.

The results are consistent with internal polling that the Blumenthal campaign shared earlier this week as part of its damage-control efforts. A Rasmussen poll released May 19, the day after Blumenthal held a press conference denying he had lied, showed a much tighter race, 48 percent to 45 percent.

“The findings of today’s Quinnipiac University poll are curious and perhaps odd, given that four polls on the Connecticut Senate race have been made public over the past 21 days, and three of those suggest the spread between Linda McMahon and Dick Blumenthal is somewhere between 15 points and a statistical dead heat,” said Ed Patru, a McMahon spokesman.

Blumenthal leads McMahon among men (53-34), women (59-29), Democrats (83-8), unaffiliated voters (56-31) and members of military households (53-34). The only demographic favoring McMahon was Republicans (64-27), and she lost more than a quarter of the GOP to Blumenthal.

The Blumenthal campaign had an understated reaction, at least publicly.

“Dick is taking nothing for granted in this race — he is focused on listening to people on the issues that matter most to them, like jobs and the economy, and working hard to earn their support,” said Maura Downes, a campaign spokeswoman.

The campaign is also treading lightly over the Memorial Day weekend. Blumenthal is staying away from parades and public observances, but may privately visit a memorial, Downes said.

The Quinnipiac poll was conducted on May 25 and 25. The survey of 1,159 Connecticut registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus  2.9 percentage points.

Quinnipiac was in the field for a day when Republican Rob Simmons ended his primary campaign, leaving McMahon, for the moment, as the only Republican. Peter Schiff is petitioning to force a primary.

McMahon was favored by 49 percent of Republicans, followed by Simmons with 23 percent and Schiff with 11 percent. Fifteen percent were undecided.

McMahon won a dramatic convention victory over Simmons, a former three-term congressman who tried to convince delegates that McMahon was unelectable. Simmons exited the race Tuesday morning, saying he could not compete with McMahon’s money.

She has contributed $16 million to her campaign and has promised to spend $50 million of her own fortune. McMahon never has run for office.

Schwartz said Blumenthal, who was elected attorney general in 1990, leads on every character measure.

  • 76 – 15 percent that Blumenthal has the right kind of experience to be a U.S. Senator;
  • 52 – 29 percent that McMahon does not have the experience;
  • 60 – 27 percent that he is honest and trustworthy;
  • 45 – 24 percent, with 31 percent undecided, that McMahon is honest and trustworthy;
  • 69 – 21 percent that Blumenthal cares about their needs and problems;
  • 45 – 33 percent, with 22 percent undecided, that she cares;
  • 73 – 19 percent that he has strong leadership qualities;
  • 54 – 23 percent, with 24 percent undecided that McMahon has strong leadership.

In the two primary races for governor, Foley leads a three-way Republican field, while Lamont tops Dan Malloy in the Democratic race, 41 percent to 24 percent.

In the GOP race, Foley is supported by 37 percent of Republicans, followed by Lt. Gov. Mike Fedele with 11 percent and Hartford-area business leader Oz Griebel with 5 percent.

“These results show that Republican primary voters prefer a candidate who is an outsider and not part of the Hartford establishment, and someone who has real solutions to our state’s problems and can be trusted to take the actions necessary to get Connecticut back on track,” Foley said.

But the Republican contest could be volatile as 42 percent of Republicans are undecided and most voters still know little about the field: the percentage of voters who don’t know enough about the candidates to form an opinion ranges from 58 percent to 88 percent.

Schwartz said he did not screen respondents for likely primary voters. With relatively low turnouts in primaries compared to general elections, pollsters have a harder time measuring the relative strength of candidates in intra-party contests.

In the Democratic primary, 30 percent are undecided and a majority of voters still are unfamiliar with the endorsed candidate, Malloy, who won the convention vote last weekend by a 2-1 margin. He was the endorsed candidate in 2006, but lost a close primary to New Haven Mayor John DeStefano.

Lamont gets a 46 – 12 percent favorability rating among Democrats, with 39 percent who haven’t heard enough to form an opinion.  For Malloy, 65 percent haven’t heard enough. Lamont became a national political figure in 2006 by taking away the Democratic nomination from U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman in a campaign dominated by the war in Iraq.

“In the governor’s race, Ned Lamont leads Dan Malloy because of his advantage in money and name recognition that he built during his 2006 Senate run,” Schwartz said. “Foley dominates the largely unknown Mike Fedele and Oz Griebel.

Lamont and Foley already are advertising heavily on television.

“With each poll, we’ve seen Ned’s support grow as he tells more voters about his plan to put Connecticut back to work and move our state forward,” said Justine Sessions. Lamont’s communication director.

The Malloy campaign was quick to minimize the survey.

“So much for Ned’s poll in which he claimed to be leading by 35 points; if his poll was right and the Q-poll is right that’s an 18-point drop for him.  Not great.  As for the Q-Poll, in January Dan was at 11 and Ned was at 27.  Today Dan’s at 24 and Ned’s at 41.  That means they’ve each moved by almost the same amount.  But Ned’s spent a million dollars on TV and Dan hasn’t spent a dime,” said Dan Kelly, Malloy’s campaign manager.

In the previous Quinnipiac poll, taken in March, Lamont led Malloy, 28 percent to 18 percent. Lamont’s campaign more recently released an internal poll showing him with a 35-point lead.

The survey of 1,159 self-identified voters was taken May 24 and 25, immediately following the Democratic and Republican nominating conventions. It a margin of error of plus or minus  2.9 percentage points. The survey includes 379 Democrats with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points and 231 Republicans with a margin of error of plus or minus 6.5 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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