Linda McMahon has responded to an unsettling Quinnipiac University poll with an internal survey that shows her with great favorables and a 21-percentage point lead over her rival for the GOP Senate nomination, former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, R-4th District.

(The Shays campaign says caveat voter: McMahon portrayed her internals as showing a dead heat in 2010 on the eve of a Senate race she lost in a landslide.)

Her campaign went into the field Sunday, three days after the release of the Quinnipiac poll that showed Shays within 9 points of McMahon among Republicans and even with the two leading Democrats, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, and Susan Bysiewicz, the former secretary of the state.

McLaughlin & Associates started its two-day survey for McMahon the same day that Shays was talking a little smack on WFSB’s “Face the State.”

“The congressman on Sunday on ‘Face the State’ said he will win the convention and the primary,” said Erin Isaac, a spokeswoman for McMahon. “These numbers show a different story. We thought it was important to show that.”

McLaughlin found McMahon leading Shays, 53 percent to 32 percent. Her lead was 37 percent to 20 percent among Republicans who say they definitely intend to vote, 51 to 29 when probable voters were added. The remainder comes from voters who say are leaning toward voting.

Isaac declined to say if the poll was prompted by Quinnipiac, Shays or the phases of the moon. “Just like any other campaign, we poll periodically,” she said.

Amanda Bergen, a spokeswoman for Shays, said it was clear McMahon was responding to Quinnipiac.

“They are trying to stop the bleeding,” she said.

Isaac said the campaign only polled likely Republican voters, so it had no numbers to counter the most troublesome element of the Quinnipiac poll: a finding that Shays is competitive in the general election, while McMahon trails Murphy and Bysiewicz by double digits.

The good news for Shays in McMahon’s new poll is, at least for the moment, she is showing he is worthy of attention.

Until now, the only Chris she had noticed was named Murphy.

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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