Democrat Richard Blumenthal leads Republican Linda McMahon by just 6 percentage points in a Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters released today in a U.S. Senate race once deemed uncompetitive.

By 51 percent to 45 percent, voters say they prefer the Democratic attorney general over the Republican newcomer to succeed five-term U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd.

Q-poll sen. 9/14

McMahon would be the state’s first female U.S. senator, but Blumenthal’s stronger support among women is a difference in the race, said Douglas Schwartz, the poll’s director.

Despite McMahon’s spending a record $24 million of her own money to establish a public persona as a political outsider, the former World Wrestling Entertainment executive trails Blumenthal on key measures of favorability, experience and shared values.

“It is not that voters are wild about McMahon; her favorability rating is tepid,” Schwartz said. “And many of her supporters are more anti-Blumenthal.”

And McMahon’s effort to establish herself as an outsider who can bring change to Washington has not succeeded: She and Blumenthal are viewed the same as possessing the ability to bring change to Congress.

Still, Schwartz said, McMahon has managed to make a close race against a well-known elected official who has an approval rating of 70 percent as attorney general. They are nearly tied among unaffiliated voters, who prefer Blumenthal, 47 percent to 46 percent.

“This is now a 6 point race among likely voters. With seven weeks to go and lots of money to be spent, anything can happen,” he said. Eleven percent of voters who expressed a preference say they could change their mind before election day.

Perhaps the most alarming findings in the poll for Blumenthal is that voters in this overwhelmingly blue state do not care if Democrats retain control of the Senate, nor are they enamored of an activist government that he has personified as an aggressive attorney general.

When asked if government should do more to solve problems or is it doing to many things that should be left to businesses and individuals, 56 percent replied government is  “doing too much” and 36 percent said it should “do more.”

The preference for which party should control the Senate was 39 percent Democratic, 40 percent Republican and 19 percent said it doesn’t matter.

By a 2-1 margin among the those who say President Obama is a factor in the race, the president who won Connecticut in a landslide two years ago is now a drag on Democrats. About half of voters say he is not a factor in their decision, but he is a negative for 33 percent and a positive for 16 percent.

Obama is coming to Connecticut in two days to headline a fundraiser for Blumenthal in Stamford, but no public rally is scheduled with the Democratic president and the party’s statewide ticket. Obama’s own rating has gone negative: 45 percent approve of his performance; 52 percent disapprove.

The president still might be able to excite the party base. He has an 81-percent approval rating among Democrats.

Seventeen percent of the voters identified themselves as part of the Tea Party movement, which has flocked to McMahon after supporting Peter Schiff’s free-market, anti-Washington message in the GOP primary.

The poll also highlights several continuing problems for McMahon. Fifty-six percent of voters view her as lacking the right experience to be a U.S. senator, only 49 percent say she shares their values and only 45 percent say they have a favorable view of her.

And 42 percent of her support is from voters who say they are opposed to Blumenthal, not for McMahon. Three-quarters of Blumenthal voters say are motivated by support for the Democrat, with 22 percent say their preference for him is an anti-McMahon vote.

Seventy-two percent say Blumenthal has the right experience to be senator, 55 percent say he shares their values and 55 percent say they have a favorable view of him.

More than 90 percent of voters are worried about the economy, with 54 percent pronouncing themselves “very worried” and 37 percent “somewhat worried.”

With a total estimated budget of $50 million, McMahon is saturating the airwaves with commercials.

Much of McMahon’s advertising has appealed directly to women, but they support Blumenthal, 56 percent to 41 percent. Men narrowly prefer McMahon, 48 percent to 47 percent.

Schwartz speculated that men are more offended by Blumenthal’s misstatements about serving in Vietnam and women are more turned-off by McMahon’s connection to professional wrestling. On five occasions, Blumenthal referred to service in Vietnam, while he actually was a stateside reservist, as his official biography correctly notes.

Sixty-percent of voters say the Vietnam controversy doesn’t make a difference, while 37 percent say it makes them less likely to vote for Blumenthal. The gender gap is pronounced: 44 percent of men are less likely to vote for him over the issue, compared to 29 percent for women.

McMahon’s background as the former chief executive of WWE is a negative: Among the slightly more than half who say it is a factor, 33 percent say it makes them less likely and 20 percent more likely to vote for her.

Again, there is a significant gender gap: for women, it is a strong negative, 38 percent to 14 percent; for men, it is a slight negative, 28 percent to 24 percent.

The poll is the first of the general election season in which Quinnipiac screened for likely voters by using a series of questions aimed at interest in the election. As a  result, Schwartz said it cannot be easily compared to previous polls, which have showed McMahon steadily gaining on Blumenthal since January.

Earlier this week, Rasmussen Reports released a poll showing little change over the past month: Blumenthal’s lead grew from 7 points to 9 points. Rasmussen has him up, 53 percent to 44 percent.

Democrats spent the day Tuesday pointing to polls that showed the race stabilizing. They also released an internal poll puts Blumenthal ahead, 54 to 39 percent.

The Quinnipiac poll is based on a telephone survey of 875 likely voters conducted from September 8 to 12. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 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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