In Quinnipiac and Rasmussen polls released today, Republican Tom Foley has opened a small lead in the volatile, tight race for governor, while Democrat Richard Blumenthal is up by as much 9 percentage points in the contest for U.S. Senate.

After trailing by 5 points a week ago, Foley leads Democrat Dan Malloy among likely voters in a new Quinnipiac University poll, 48 percent to 45 percent, a spread just within the poll’s margin of error. A new Rasmussen Reports survey has Foley up by 2 points, 48 percent to 46 percent.

“But this race is too close to close. With 6 percent still undecided, there still is room for movement,” said Douglas Schwartz,Quinnipiac’s director.

In the Senate race, Republican Linda McMahon has closed from 12 points down a week ago and now trails by 9 points in the Quinnipiac survey, 53 percent to 44 percent. Ramussen Reports has Blumenthal up by 7, leading 53 percent to 46 percent.

“Independent voters, who have been very volatile in this election season, are shifting back to the Republican candidates in both the Senate and governor’s races,” Schwartz said.

Quinnipiac was in the field for a week conducting its last poll, concluding Sunday, meaning that the poll could be of limited use in picking up late movement by voters in what has been an unsettled year, especially in the race for governor, where 11 percent say they still could change their mind.

But Rasmussen Reports conducted its entire poll of 750 likely voters Sunday, ostensibly giving a fresh snap shot of Connecticut’s two marquee races, which drew presidential visits over the weekend from Barack Obama and Bill Clinton trying to help Malloy, Blumenthal and down-ticket Democrats.

Malloy, who is trying to become the first Democrat to win a gubernatorial election here since 1986, appears to have been damaged most by the relentless negative ads each candidate has directed at the other.

Last week, Malloy aired an ad accusing Foley, a former ambassador, of lying to the FBI about two long-ago arrests during a background check. The Republican Governors Association is airing an ad claiming that Malloy would raise taxes.

“Dan Malloy’s unfavorables have risen to the point where he gets a mixed favorability rating for the first time,” Schwartz said.

He was rated favorably by 44 percent and  unfavorably by 41 percent, compared to a 47 percent-to-34 percent split a week ago. Foley fared better, 48 percent to 34 percent today, compared to 45 percent to 33 percent a week ago.

A poll released Sunday by Public Policy Polling, which had Foley with a 2-point lead, also found that Malloy’s negatives have risen in recent weeks, while Foley’s have been relatively stable.

“The Senate race in Connecticut has drawn most of the national media attention over the
course of 2010, but the contest for governor is where the action is here in the final days of
the campaign,” said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling.

The Quinnipiac poll showed a stunning shift among unaffiliated voters.

A nine point lead for Malloy a week ago among unaffiliated voters has turned into a 22-point deficit, according to the poll. Independents now favor Foley, 55 percent to 33 percent.

“For Foley to win, he needs to win the independent vote by a substantial margin, which he is now doing for the first time,” Schwartz said.

Malloy dismissed speculation that his expanded negative rating could stem from the ad that questions Foley’s trustworthiness.

“My negatives have nothing to do with that,” Malloy said. “This guy is spending a lot of money to drive up my negatives.”

Foley, who has loaned about $10 million of his own funds to his campaign, has been running several commercials in recent weeks charging Malloy intends to seek billions of dollars in state tax hikes to close the $3.3 billion budget gap — a charge Malloy disputes.

The Democratic nominee, who stopped at the Valley Diner in Derby on Monday morning, said there are too many conflicting polls to get a firm read on how independents plan to vote in the gubernatorial contest. “There are going to be a lot of Democrats voting, a lot of Republicans voting — I don’t know with the unaffiliateds,” he said. “I feel good about where we are.”

Independents also have swung dramatically to McMahon in the Senate race, turning a 16-point deficit into a five-point advantage.

McMahon now has a lead among unaffiliated voters, 49 percent to 44 percent for McMahon. A week ago, they preferred Blumenthal, 56 percent to 40 percent.

“Linda McMahon’s mini surge may be too little, too late,” Schwartz said.

Unlike the race for governor, the favorable/unfavorable ratings of Blumenthal and McMahon have been relatively stable.

By 53 percent to 43 percent, likely voters have a favorable opinion of Blumenthal, compared to a 55 to 39 percent split last week. McMahon gets a negative 43 – 50 percent favorability, virtually unchanged from last week.

“I’m really delighted that we continue to close the gap,” McMahon said as she campaigned today. “Our internal polls show we’re neck and neck. I’ve got my foot on the accelerator.”

The poll is based on a telephone survey of 930 voters conducted from October 25 to 31. It has a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points. The Rasmussen Reports surveys have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 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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