Democrat Chris Murphy has opened a six-percentage point lead over Republican Linda McMahon in the U.S. Senate race as women and older voters shift toward the Democratic congressman, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday.

The McMahon campaign took unusually strong steps to undercut the poll, saying its sample of GOP voters was undersized. Her pollster, John McLaughlin, acknowledged the campaign was trying to stem a fatal sense of momentum towards Murphy with 13 days until the election.

Murphy leads 49 percent to 43 percent among likely voters, with women now favoring him by 14 points, 52 percent to 38 percent, up from six points in the previous Quinnipiac poll Oct. 4. McMahon’s seven-point lead among men shrunk to four points.

Voters over 55 years old, who were evenly divided in the previous poll, now favor Murphy by nine points, 51 percent to 42 percent.

“It’s déjà vu all over again in the Connecticut Senate race. As we hit the final stretch of the campaign, Linda McMahon is beginning to fade, as she did in her 2010 run against Richard Blumenthal,” said Douglas Schwartz, the poll’s director.

The poll comes as McMahon and Murphy have stepped up their battle for the women’s vote, which decisively went against the World Wrestling Entertainment co-founder and former chief executive two years ago in her first run for office.

“Has she hit her ceiling? She took 43 percent of the vote in 2010, losing by 12 points to Blumenthal,” Schwartz said. “Two weeks before the election, she is back at 43 percent.”

Still, the hotly contested race for the open Senate seat remains fluid as 11 percent of Murphy’s voters and 14 percent of McMahon’s say that might change their minds in the 13 days before the election.

The McMahon campaign said the race remains a toss-up, pushing back in an email blast by Corry Bliss, her campaign manager, then in a conference call with their pollster, McLaughlin. Their tracking poll has McMahon up by one point, similar to recent independent polls, he said.

“If you can discourage Republicans and independents who are voting for McMahon, and even Democrats who are voting for McMahon, that ‘Gee, it looks like she is going to lose,’ it gives them less of a reason to vote,” McLaughlin said.

“Yesterday two respected national polling firms, Rasmussen and Mason-Dixon, showed the Connecticut Senate race is a dead heat,” said Corry Bliss, McMahon’s campaign manager. “We know that Linda’s message is resonating with voters across Connecticut.”

Schwartz stood by Quinnipiac’s random-dial methodology, its historical accuracy and its sample: 40 percent unaffiliated, 35 percent Democrats and 21 percent Republicans.

As of this month, voter registration figures show that that 41.5 percent of voters were unaffiliated, 36.7 percent were Democrats and 20.8 percent were Republicans.

Exit polling from the last presidential year of 2008 showed a turnout in Connecticut that was 31 percent unaffiliated, 43 percent Democratic and 27 percent Republican. By that yardstick, Democrats and Republicans were both undercounted and unaffiliated were overcounted by Quinnipiac.

In the Quinnipiac poll, Murhphy seemed to be scoring on Medicare and Social Security. It found voters expressing more confidence in Murphy on his approach to the health and retirement programs so critical to older voters, 52 percent to 39 percent.

The poll also found that Murphy may be succeeding in tagging McMahon as more concerned with the wealthy. By 70 percent to 14 percent, voters say Murphy would favor the middle-class over the wealthy. For McMahon, the split was 36 percent to 55 percent.

“Murphy has taken the lead in the Senate race in part because more voters now believe he understands their economic problems better than McMahon,” Schwartz said.

The poll underscores why the McMahon campaign is taking the risk of running television ads appealing to black and Latino supporters of President Obama, angering some Republicans. Even with a 50 percent to 41 percent lead among unaffiliated voters, she trails in this Democratic state.

Obama has a 14-point lead over Mitt Romney in the new poll. He leads 55 percent to 41 percent, compared with 54 percent to 42 percent on Oct. 4.

“The president’s coattails are helping Murphy,” Schwartz said.

McMahon, who spent $50 million of her own fortune on the 2010 race, is outspending Murphy more than 4-1. As of Sept. 30, she had spent $28.2 million to Murphy’s $6.2 million. Outside groups have tried to blunt the advantage with $7 million in spending, mostly for TV ads backing the Democrat.

The only bright spot for McMahon is that her supporters are more enthusiastic than Murphy’s. Forty-three percent of McMahon voters say they are “very enthusiastic,” compared with 30 percent for Murphy. Still, McMahon’s number is down from 50 percent in the previous poll.

By comparison, 63 percent of Obama voters and 62 percent of Romney voters are “very enthusiastic” about their choice.

More voters now view McMahon unfavorably (47 percent) than favorably (41 percent) for the first time in Quinnipiac’s three polls of likely voters since Aug. 28, when her favorables outweighed her unfavorables, 47 percent to 35 percent.

After being viewed unfavorably in the two previous polls, Murphy’s favorable/unfavorable split is a 39 percent to 39 percent tie.

The poll had a bit of good news for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the Democrat who faces re-election in 2014. His job approval rating has edged above water: 45 percent approve, 41 percent disapprove. In the previous poll, it was 43 percent to 44 percent.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman is getting more popular as he edges toward retirement: His approval rating is up, 53 percent to 33 percent. It was 50 percent to 38 percent in August.

Voters show no signs of second thoughts about their Senate choice in 2010: Blumenthal’s approval rating is 66 percent to 19 percent.

The poll is based on a telephone survey of 1,412 likely voters conducted from Oct. 19 to 22. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.

Related: McMahon, Murphy fight for women’s vote

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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