Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Malloy trails Ned Lamont by 9 percentage points among likely Democratic voters in the Aug. 10 primary, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday.

Tom Foley’s lead in the race for the GOP nomination for governor is 35 percentage points, but either Democrat is strongly positioned to win the general election, leading any of the three Republican contenders by at least 11 percentage points, the poll found.

“The Democrats haven’t won a race for governor in Connecticut in 24 years.  Could this be their year?  Both Ned Lamont and Dan Malloy have double digit leads over all the Republicans, including frontrunner Tom Foley,” said the poll’s director, Douglas Schwartz.

Foley is favored in the new poll, 48 percent to 13 percent over Michael Fedele, who began his television ads yesterday. Oz Griebel has 7 percent. But the Republican candidates still are not well-known, and 73 percent of Republicans say they could change their mind before the primary.

Lamont had a 17-point lead in June, with 16 percent undecided, though Schwartz cautioned that the new poll employs a different methodology, making comparisons to past polls imprecise. Lamont’s lead is 46 percent to 37 percent.

The new poll is a survey of likely primary voters conducted from July 7 to 13. For the first time this election season, Quinnipiac posed a series of questions intended to screen respondents for their intention to vote. Previous polls were surveys of self-identified registered Democrats, not likely primary voters.

Using the previous methodology, Lamont still leads Malloy among registered Democrats, 46 percent to 26 percent. But a survey of likely primary voters is considered a better measure of the race and is closer to the polling methods employed by the campaigns.

Still, the new poll is likely to be a major boost to Malloy and a reassurance to Foley, whose campaign has been rocked by disclosures over past arrests. The poll found a high awareness of recent stories about Foley’s arrests in 1981 and 1993 after motor vehicle incidents, including one involving his ex-wife.

Despite a run of negative news, Foley’s lead has held among likely Republican voters. In the previous poll of registered Republicans, Foley led by 27 points.

Asked if they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the GOP candidates, 42 percent said they haven’t heard enough about Foley. The numbers unfamiliar with the others was even higher: Fedele, 73 percent; Griebel, 81 percent.

The differences in the polling methodology did not keep the Malloy campaign from claiming momentum.

“Today’s Quinnipiac Poll confirms what we’ve been feeling every day for the past few weeks: Dan’s got the momentum.  It’s obvious,” said Dan Kelly, Malloy’s campaign manager. “It also confirms something we’ve been saying for months: that as people get to know Dan, they like him. Whether it’s because he’s out campaigning, or on TV, more and more people are seeing him every day.”

Kelly urged Lamont to reconsider his decision to refuse a last televised debate before the primary.

“As this race continues to tighten, Dan thinks it’s more important than ever that he and Ned should debate. There’s still time left for Ned to change his mind,” Kelly said.

Justine Sessions, the communications director for Lamont, said he has no plans to accept further invitations to debates.

She said the new poll shows Lamont is a strong position, but she and Lamont acknowledged that the race is competitive.

“I think it’s a real horse race. I’ve always thought that,” Lamont said.

“Absolutely. We’ve said from the beginning that Mayor Malloy is a strong candidate,” Sessions said. “The Democrats are fortunate to have two strong candidates.”

Malloy said he was not surprised to see that both Democrats are favored over the Republican field.

“I watched some of the Republican debate yesterday,” Malloy said. “I’m not surprised the Democrats have the lead.”

Forty-eight percent of Republicans called Foley’s arrests a private matter, while 28 percent say they are a legitimate issue.

In the previous poll, Democrats favored Lamont over Malloy, 39 percent to 22 percent, with 36 percent undecided.

Republicans previously favored Foley over Fedele, 39 percent to 12 percent, with 2 percent favoring Griebel and 44 percent undecided.

The new poll is based on a telephone survey of 668 likely Democratic voters and 854 likely Republican voters. The margins of error are plus or minus 3.8 percentage points in the Democratic poll and 3.4 points in the GOP poll.

For data other than the measure of likely primary voters, Quinnipiac also surveyed 1,367 Connecticut registered voters. Those questions have margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 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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