Democrat Richard Blumenthal’s lead over Republican Linda McMahon in the U.S. Senate race has shrunk by one-fifth in two weeks to 20 percentage points, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

In a race roiled by controversy over Blumenthal’s misstatements about his Vietnam-era military record, the attorney general still leads McMahon by a wide margin, 55 percent to 35 percent.

Blumenthal-McMahon 6-10-10

“Prior to the Vietnam controversy, Blumenthal led by 33 points. A week after the controversy, his lead was 25 points. Now it’s down to 20 points,” said Douglas Schwartz, the poll’s director.

The poll found little change in the races for the gubernatorial nominations.

“Tom Foley and Ned Lamont continue to enjoy double digit leads. But with two months until the primaries, and the large undecided, there is still plenty of room for movement,” Schwartz said.

Democrats favor Lamont over Dan Malloy, 39 percent to 22 percent, with 36 percent undecided.

Republicans favor Foley over Michael C. Fedele, 39 percent to 12 percent, with 2 percent favoring Oz Griebel and 44 percent undecided.

In the Senate race, Blumenthal’s 72 percent job approval rating still is the highest of any elected official measured by the poll, but McMahon’s favorables now narrowly exceed her negatives, 38 percent to 35 percent.

Two weeks ago, 32 percent viewed her favorably and 39 percent unfavorably. Blumenthal is viewed favorably by 59 percent and unfavorably by 29 percent, little changed from the last poll.

Schwartz wondered if McMahon, a former chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment who is opposing a 20-year attorney general, can benefit from the strong showing by women in recent primaries across the country.

“Like those who won on Tuesday night, she is a successful business woman running as an outsider,” he said. “One difference, however, is that Connecticut voters have a negative view of the WWE and say that her experience as the World Wrestling Entertainment CEO makes them less likely to vote for her by about two-one margins,” he said.

Only 34 percent of voters say McMahon has the right experience to be a senator, while 52 percent say she does not. And 51 percent say they prefer someone with political experience, versus 38 percent who want an outsider.

By a margin of 36 percent to 16 percent, voters say her association with WWE makes them less likely to vote for her. Forty-four percent say the WWE connection will not affect their vote.

Overall, voter opinion of professional wrestling is negative, 36 percent to 16 percent.

“There’s a clear choice here for the U.S. Senate and by a 20 point margin the people of Connecticut see it. They know Dick Blumenthal will stand up for them in Washington just as he has here in Connecticut,” a Blumenthal spokeswoman, Maura Downes. “And even with her $16 million barrage of advertising, mail and negative attacks, Linda McMahon is the choice of barely one third of voters.”

McMahon’s communication director, Ed Patru, said he believes the race is even tighter, pointing to a poll their campaign conducted June 1 to 3. He shared the poll Tuesday with the Mirror and Congressional Quarterly.

“We’re as confident in our internal numbers today as we were yesterday and the margin in this race is in the 10- to 15-point range. That is confirmed not only by our internals, but also by Dick Blumenthal’s campaign,” Patru said.

Their internal poll had McMahon trailing by 13 points, while Blumenthal’s campaign said their internal polling three weeks ago had him with a 15-point lead.

“The fact that Dick Blumenthal, a 26-year career politician, is on the verge of dipping below 50% in the polls this early in the campaign, suggests Connecticut voters are ready for something different and it explains Linda’s growing momentum,” Patru said.

But Schwartz said today that the best news in the poll for Blumenthal is that his numbers seem to have stablized. His lead has shrunk over the past two weeks as McMahon has picked up support among undecideds, not from a deterioration in Blumenthal’s base.

In Quinnipiac’s January and March polls, Blumenthal had between 61 percent and 66 percent of the vote when matched against McMahon, Simmons or Schiff. His number dipped to the mid-50s in May after the Vietnam story broke and stayed there in the new poll. Blumenthal’s favorables also dropped from March to May, but have stayed firm since then.

“His numbers have stabilized. They have not gotten any worse,” Schwartz said. “There seems to be a generic vote there for the Republican candidate of anywhere between 29 and 35 percent.”

McMahon has yet to win a majority of Republicans for the GOP nomination and has actually lost ground, despite former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons’ decision to end his campaign, saying he could not compete with the $50 million McMahon has promised to eventually spend on her campaign. Simmons’ name will remain on the ballot for the Aug. 10 primary.

Forty-five percent of Republicans say they will vote for McMahon in the primary, down four percentage points from two weeks ago. Simmons is favored by 29 percent, up six points. Peter Schiff, who is trying to qualify for a primary by petitioning, is the choice of 13 percent, up two points. Most of that movement is within the poll’s margin of error.

Voter opinion is unchanged over Blumenthal’s Vietnam controversy.

One-third of voters say they are less likely to vote for him, but 61 percent say it makes no difference. Blumenthal, a stateside Marine Reservist during the war, has apologized for referring to service in Vietnam on occasions, which he has called misstatements. By a margin of 53 percent to 40 percent, a majority still say they believe he misspoke, not lied.

Blumenthal began airing television commercials June 1, four days after the last Quinnipiac poll and the day before Quinnipiac went into the field with the new poll. McMahon, who has advertised heavily, has been off the air in recent weeks.

His ads feature constituents he has helped as attorney general.

The poll found 66 percent of voters say they believe Blumenthal cares about the needs and problems of people like them, down three points from May. Forty-eight percent say they believe McMahon cares, up three points.

In the governor’s race, Lamont is the only candidate now advertising heavily. Malloy, the convention-endorsed candidate who received $2.2 million in public financing for his primary campaign, has yet to go on the air.

“Today’s Q-poll shows the same spread it showed in January,” said Dan Kelly, Malloy’s campaign manager. “Despite spending more than a million dollars on TV, Ned Lamont has been unable to change the dynamics of this race.”

Kelly said the numbers will close once Malloy starts spending money on communicating with voters, which “will happen soon enough.”

Sixty-eight percent of voters know too little of Malloy, a former mayor of Stamford who ran for governor four years ago, to express an opinion. He is viewed favorably by 26 percent and unfavorably by 5 percent. Lamont, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in 2006, is largely unknown by 46 percent. He is viewed favorably by 43 percent and unfavorably by 9 percent.

“Connecticut residents are responding to Ned’s fresh vision for our state, from his plan to create jobs and grow Connecticut businesses to his strategy for renewing our cities,” said Justine Sessions, Lamont’s campaign manager.

Foley, a businessman and former U.S. ambassador who won the Republican convention endorsement, is the only GOP candidate who has had a major presence on television. Fifty-two percent of voters still know too little to express an opinion of him. His favorables outweigh his negatives, 37 percent to 9 percent.

Fedele and Griebel are even less known. Seventy-eight percent say they haven’t heard enough about Fedele, who has been lieutenant governor since January 2007, and 89 percent know too little about Griebel to form an opinion. Griebel is the president a regional business group, MetroHartford Alliance.

“Together with our resounding endorsement at the Republican Convention last month, these results confirm that Connecticut voters are ready for an outsider to fix the mess in Hartford,” Foley said.

Foley won the endorsement with 50 percent of the vote after extensive vote-switching.

The poll is based on a telephone survey taken from June 2 to 8 of 1,350 registered voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points. The numbers in the primary races are based on a survey of 500 Democrats with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points and 343 Republicans with a margin of error of plus or minus 5.3 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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