Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Malloy has a 9-percentage point lead over Republican Tom Foley in a Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters released today.

By 50 percent to 41 percent, voters prefer the Democratic former mayor of Stamford to the Republican business executive from Greenwich. Eight percent are undecided.

The poll found the two candidates struggling for voters’ attention in a campaign season dominated by a U.S. Senate race, a potential a problem for Foley as he tries to close the gap.

“As the trailing candidate, getting more attention is especially important for Foley,” said Douglas Schwartz, the poll’s director.

Nearly 40 percent of voters knew too little of Foley, a former U.S. ambassador and GOP fundraiser seeking office for the first time, to offer an opinion. He is viewed favorably by 34 percent and unfavorably by 24 percent.

Malloy is viewed favorably by 46 percent and unfavorably by 21 percent. Thirty percent said they knew too little to offer an opinion of Malloy, who is running for governor for the second time.

In the race to succeed the retiring Gov. M. Jodi Rell, Malloy’s advantage comes from the larger base of Democratic voters as the two candidates are evenly splitting the unaffiliated vote. He is trying to become the first Democrat elected governor since William A. O’Neill in 1986.

Malloy is seen by 66 percent of voters as having the right experience to be governor, compared to 53 percent for Foley, who made a fortune buying, selling and running companies.

“Change is the top quality voters want in their next governor as 32 percent say bringing ‘needed change to Hartford’ is the quality that matters most in their vote. Another 23 percent want a candidate who shares their values, followed by 21 percent looking for experience and 20 looking for a candidate who is honest and trustworthy,” Schwartz said.

Malloy leads on all those counts.

The next governor inherits an estimated deficit of $3.4 billion, but jobs and the economy trump the deficit as the most important issue, 55 percent to 16 percent.

Republican voters are less concerned about jobs than Democrats and unaffiliated voters. Only 45 percent of GOP voters say the jobs and the economy are the biggest issue, compared to nearly 60 percent of Democrats and unaffiliateds.

Foley, whose long-ago arrest after a custody argument with his former wife was reported during his primary campaign, is disadvantaged by a significant gender gap. Malloy has a 15-point lead among women and a five-point lead among men.

Schwartz said he attributed the gender gap to a tendency by women in Connecticut to favor Democrats, as well as doubts by female voters about whether Foley has the right experience. Only 44 percent of women said Foley has the right resume to be governor, compared to 61 percent of male voters.

The poll comes days after a Rasmussen Reports survey showed Malloy with a seven-point lead.

Quinnipiac’s random telephone poll of 875 likely voters was conducted from September 8 to 12. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

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 measuring interest in the election. As a  result, Schwartz said it cannot be easily compared to previous, pre-primary Quinnipiac polls that matched Malloy against Foley.

Three quarters of voters say their preferences in the race are firm, while a quarter may change their minds.

Rell, who is not seeking re-election after nearly 10 years as lieutenant governor and six as governor, has a job approval rating of 58 percent in the latest poll.

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Mark PazniokasCapitol Bureau Chief

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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