U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District, is in his closest race yet in his bid for a seventh term, according to a new poll released Thursday that shows Republican Ann Brickley trailing by just 7 percentage points.

In the 4th Congressional District, incumbent Democrat Jim Himes is virtually tied with challenger Dan Debicella, according to the new CT Capitol Report poll prepared by the Merriman River Group.

Larson, an East Hartford Democrat, leads Brickley, a Wethersfield businesswoman, 51.8 percent to 44.7 percent, according to the poll.

“Representative Larson is facing his stiffest challenge yet as he seeks a seventh term,” the poll’s executive director, Matthew Fitch said “While the old saying holds that all politics is local, the poll numbers suggest that for many voters this year, this congressional race is a referendum on President Obama.”

The survey found voters who approve of Obama’s job performance back Larson over Brickley, 87 to 9 percent. Those of disapprove of the president side with Brickley by an 84 -13 margin.

“With Obama’s approval ratings a 50-50 proposition in the 1st District, Larson’s challenge will be to make the election more than just an Obama referendum.

The poll also found Larson has a wide lead among women, holding a 56.5-40 advantage, while men favor Brickley 51 percent to 47 percent.

“People are very upset with the direction this country is taking,” Brickley said, adding the new survey confirms internal polls her campaign has conducted. “The stimulus bill didn’t create jobs. So many people here are out of work. And Congressman Larson continues to insist the country is headed in the right direction. … Washington is just broken and he represents a big piece of that.”

The Larson campaign offered no immediate response Thursday afternoon to the poll.

In the 4th District, Himes leads Debicella, a state senator from Shelton, 49 to 47 percent, according to the poll.

“With a month to go, the 4th district race between Democratic incumbent Jim Himes and Republican challenger Dan Debicella is a statistical dead heat, and the city of Bridgeport will likely decide it,” Fitch said.

Debicella ran more than 10 points ahead of Himes among unaffiliated voters, according to the poll. Himes was stronger with women, Debicella with men. Obama’s popularity again was a significant factor, with more than 90 percent who strongly approve of the president siding with Himes and a similar proportion of those who disapprove strongly going with Debicella.

Himes campaign declined to comment on the poll.

“We are very encouraged by the results of today’s CT Capitol Report-Merriam River Group poll,” said Debicella spokeswoman Ashley Maagero. “Our internal polls, which show this race is a dead heat at 42-42 percent, are right on par with the findings of today’s survey.  This contest is undoubtedly a toss-up, and will remain very competitive through Election Day.”

“The results of the poll show Fairfield County voters are not happy with the failed Washington agenda Jim Himes has rubber-stamped as our Congressman, voting 95 percent of the time with Nancy Pelosi,” Maagero added.”Voters in the 4th District want an independent-minded congressman like Chris Shays – that leader is Dan Debicella.”

Merriman River Group, which has offices in Hamden, surveyed 515 likely voters in the 1st District and 411 in the 4th. The margin of error for the automated telephone survey, conducted from Oct. 3 to 5, was +/- 4.3 percentage points in the 1st District and 4.4 percentage points in the 4th.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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