Republican Linda McMahon and Democrat Chris Murphy remain essentially tied in Connecticut’s slugfest of a U.S. Senate race, while President Obama has opened a 12-percentage point lead over Mitt Romney in the state, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

In a survey of likely voters conducted from Sept. 28 to Oct. 2, Murphy closed to within one percentage point of McMahon after trailing her in Quinnipiac’s previous poll a month ago by three points. McMahon now leads, 48 percent to 47 percent.

Murphy has paid a price, however, for McMahon’s negative advertising, which 84 percent of voters say they have seen: His supporters are less enthusiastic than McMahon’s, and he has a negative favorability rating for the first time.

“Connecticut voters like Linda McMahon more than U.S. Rep. Christopher Murphy. But the Democrat seems to be holding his own against the onslaught of negative advertising,” said Douglas Schwartz, the poll’s director.

Connecticut voters have a favorable opinion of McMahon by a 45 percent to 41 percent margin, compared to 47 percent to 35 percent on Aug. 28. Murphy has a negative favorability rating of 36 percent to 40 percent, down from a positive score of 38 percent to 30 percent.

“Murphy’s negatives are up 10 points and McMahon’s are up 6 points. McMahon has done a good job defining Murphy, who was not well known statewide, in a negative way,” Schwartz said.

McMahon outspent Murphy and the groups backing him by a 3-1 margin in the three weeks preceding the poll, offering Connecticut television viewers a steady stream of attacks on the three-term congressman’s record and character.

“McMahon’s blanketing the airwaves with TV ads appears to be working. More voters have seen her ads than Murphy’s and more voters think they are effective,” Schwartz said.

The campaigns offered sharply different analyses, with McMahon calling the a poll a validation of her economic plan and Murphy agreeing with Schwartz on the efficacy of negative ads.

“Connecticut voters are clearly embracing Linda McMahon and her six-point jobs plan, the centerpiece of which is a middle-class tax cut that will save the average family $500 a month next year,” said Corry Bliss, McMahon’s manager.

“Just like she did against Senator Blumenthal in 2010, Linda McMahon is spending tens of millions of dollars on lies, smears, and political attack ads in an attempt to distract voters from her strong support for right-wing Republican policies like ending Social Security, privatizing Medicare, and giving millionaires like herself another massive tax cut,” said Eli Zupnick, a Murphy spokesman.

McMahon, who is the co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment, is running for U.S. Senate for the second time in as many elections. She lost to Democrat Richard Blumenthal in 2010. She and Murphy are fighting to succeed the retiring Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman.

The poll found voters with a negative opinion of McMahon’s former business, which generated the fortune fueling her two self-funded races. But they are not so crazy about the institution that employs Murphy, either.

Sixty-one percent have a negative view of wrestling, compared to 71 percent with a negative view of Congress.

“There is so much that could be said about the U.S. Congress and professional wrestling, but we probably shouldn’t say it,” Schwartz said.

Murphy leads among voters in three of the four income groups indentified in the poll: those with annual incomes of less than $30,000, $50,000 and $100,000. McMahon is favored by wealthier voters, 53 percent to 43 percent.

They are essentially tied among every age group.

Men favor and those without college degrees favor McMahon, while women and the college-educated prefer Murphy.

McMahon is winning among unaffiliated voters, 52 percent to 43 percent.

Her supporters are more enthusiastic: 50 percent are “very enthusiastic” and 39 percent are “somewhat enthusiastic. The numbers for Murphy: 27 percent are very enthused, while 55 percent are somewhat enthused.

That is reflected in the candidates’ support within their own parties: McMahon has 91 percent of the GOP vote, while Murphy has just 82 percent of the much larger Democratic vote.

But McMahon provokes a stronger reaction in both directions. Her fans and detractors have stronger opinions about her than Murphy’s do about him.

Her 45 percent favorable rating is split between 27 percent with “strongly favorable” and 18 percent with “somewhat favorable” opinions. Views are even stronger among the 41 percent with an unfavorable view: 32 percent are “strongly unfavorable” and 9 percent “somewhat unfavorable.”

Murphy’s 36 percent favorable rating: 17 percent “strongly favorable” and 19 percent “somewhat favorable. His 40 percent unfavorable: 28 percent “strongly unfavorable” and 12 percent “somewhat unfavorable.”

The presidential race

Obama was preferred over Mitt Romney, 54 percent to 42 percent, but the poll was concluded Oct. 2, the day before Wednesday’s first presidential debate, in which the Republican challenger was generally considered to have outperformed the Democratic incumbent.

With a 22-point lead among women, Obama now leads Romney, 54 percent to 42 percent, compared to 52 percent to 45 percent in the previous poll. Men are nearly evenly divided, giving Romney a 49 percent to 47 percent edge.

The president is the beneficiary of a huge compassion gap. By a 62 percent to 36 percent ratio, voters say Obama cares about their problems, while Romney is seen as uncaring by 52 percent and caring by 44 percent.

The telephone survey poll of 1,696 voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.

In its polls of likely voters, Quinnipiac pushes respondents to express a preference. Undecided voters are asked whom they leaning toward, and those “leaners” are included in the tallies.

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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