In the first public poll of 2014, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is in a dead heat with Tom Foley, the Republican he narrowly defeated in 2010, according to a survey released Tuesday by Quinnipiac University. Both are supported by 42 percent of voters.

Foley tops the five-way contest for the GOP nomination, leading his closest rival, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, 36 percent to 11 percent. Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney of Fairfield fell to the bottom of the pack as his support shrank to 3 percent.

Malloy, a first-term Democrat whose numbers have varied little since taking office in January 2011, has leads of between 6 and 11 percentage points in match ups with every Republican other than Foley.

“Haven’t we seen this movie before?” said Douglas Schwartz, director of the poll.

For Malloy, the movie is “Groundhog Day.”

As in previous polls, Connecticut gives the governor high marks for leadership and honesty, yet remains almost evenly divided on his job performance, his favorability and the question of whether he deserves re-election this fall to a second term.

The survey is Quinnipiac’s first measure of the race in nearly nine months. Last year, Foley led Malloy by three points, close to the margin of error.

Malloy, 58, who was elected in 2010 with just under 50 percent of the vote in Connecticut’s closest gubernatorial election since 1954, never has exceeded 50 percent in any key measure in a Quinnipiac poll.

“We have tried to be consistent in not saying much about polls because, what’s there to say? Polls come and go, numbers go up and down,” said Andrew Doba, the governor’s spokesman.

Poll: How GOP candidate fare against Malloy
by Alvin Chang
The latest Quinnipiac University Poll looked at how Governor Dannel P. Malloy would fare against each Republican candidate. (Other colors: Respondents preferred someone else, they wouldn’t vote or don’t know/not applicable.
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Numbers may go up and down, but not that much for Malloy. Voters who say he deserves re-election: 45 percent now, 46 percent in June. Voters who would vote for him: 42 percent now, 40 percent in June. Voters with a favorable opinion: 46 percent, then and now. His job approval: 48 percent now, 47 then.

“Dan Malloy’s failure to fix Connecticut’s economy has made him one of the nation’s most unpopular governors, with an approval rating that has never gone above 50 percent,” said Jerry Labriola, the state Republican chairman. “Despite going on the offensive over the past few months, proposing cheap election-year gimmicks in a desperate attempt to save his re-election chances, Governor Malloy has been unable to convince voters that he deserves a second term.”

Foley’s support among Republicans has not moved since the last poll, but McKinney lost eight points as the field of GOP contenders as grown to five declared candidates and one with an exploratory committee.

McKinney, who voted for the post-Newtown gun-control measures, trails a newcomer to the race, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, and ties Joseph Visconti, a former West Hartford council member who has appealed to gun owners and tea-party activists.

The poll hints at what has long been suspected of McKinney: He has relative strength in a general election, but weaknesses in a Republican primary. While finishing at the bottom of the five-candidate field, McKinney trails in his general-election match up with Malloy by only 6 points, 43 percent to 37 percent.

Malloy leads Boughton by 9 points, Lauretti by 10, and Visconti by 11. Sen. Toni Boucher of Wilton, who has an exploratory committee, also trails by 11.

McKinney’s campaign highlighted a statistic suggesting a general-election vulnerability for Foley: Twenty-one percent of voters have an unfavorable opinion of him, compared to 8 percent for McKinney.

“Ambassador Foley is viewed negatively by more than 20 percent of those polled, even before the Malloy machine throws what is sure to be its first well-financed punch,” his campaign said in an email.

Foley’s analysis was simpler: Malloy is vulnerable over the state’s lagging economy. “That is why I am running for governor and why a challenger is running neck and neck with a Democrat incumbent in a very blue state,” he said.

Malloy leads Boughton by 9 points, Lauretti by 10, and Visconti by 11. Sen. Toni Boucher of Wilton, who has an exploratory committee, also trails by 11.

Among Republican voters, Foley and “no preference” led the field: Foley, 36 percent, Boughton, 11 percent, Lauretti, 6 percent, and McKinney and Visconti, 3 percent, and Boucher, 2 percent.Thirty-five percent of Republicans expressed no preference.

Republicans trailing Foley can console themselves that the poll is in part a measure of early name recognition. Only 59 percent of respondents knew enough about Foley, 62, to offer an opinion. For the rest of the field, no more than 28 percent knew them.

That’s not the challenge for Malloy. Ninety-three percent have an opinion: 48 percent approve of his performance, and 45 percent disapprove. His re-elect numbers are similarly split: 45 percent in favor, 46 percent opposed.

The mixed reaction comes despite Malloy’s getting strong grades for leadership and honesty. His priority for the 2014 session of the General Assembly, raising the minimum wage, also polls well.

Seventy-one percent favor raising the minimum wage, with 62 percent approving of either going to $10.10, as proposed by Malloy and President Obama, or even higher.

Malloy’s match ups with Republicans indicate that any GOP candidate, even ones unknown to nearly 90 percent of voters, would result in an advantage of no better than 45 percent to 34 percent for the governor.

The poll had one final bit of sobering news for Malloy. President Obama, who helped get out the vote for Malloy in 2010 and is visiting the state Wednesday, had the worst approval/disapproval numbers of his presidency, 45 percent to 51 percent.

The poll is based on a telephone survey of 1,878 registered voters from Feb. 26 to March 2. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

The GOP primary numbers are based on a subset of 477 Republican respondents, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Quinnipiac uses live interviews with voters reached in random calls to land lines and cellphones.

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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