Former pro wrestling executive Linda McMahon has a slight lead in the race to replace Sen. Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., a stark reversal from her losing Senate bid in 2010, according to a new poll released early Tuesday.
The poll, conducted by Quinnipiac University, shows McMahon, the GOP's Senate nominee for the second time in as many election cycles, leading Rep. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., 49 percent to 46 percent. Four percent of likely voters are undecided.
McMahon handily defeated moderate former Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., in the Aug. 14 primary, the same night that Murphy easily dispatched former secretary of state Susan Bysiewicz to capture the Democratic nomination. The previous Quinnipiac poll, which was conducted among registered voters in late May and early June and is not an apples-to-apples comparison to the current survey, showed Murphy leading McMahon by just 3 percentage points, 46 percent to 43 percent.
Apart from the ballot test, McMahon's personal ratings continue to show steady improvement in Quinnipiac's polling. Now, 47 percent of likely voters have a favorable opinion of her, compared to just 35 percent who view her unfavorably. Last September, her favorability rating among registered voters was upside-down.
Then-state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal
defeated McMahon two years ago by a 12-point margin, 55 percent to 43 percent. But the new poll shows the former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO running much stronger among some key constituencies.
McMahon fares better among Republicans (winning 88 percent of the vote) than Murphy does among Democrats (82 percent). That is a reversal from 2010, when exit polls showed Blumenthal won nine-of-ten Democrats, compared to just 82 percent of Republicans for McMahon. McMahon won independents by 2 points in the 2010 race; now she leads them by 15 points, 55 percent to 40 percent.
Female voters in 2010 favored Blumenthal by 19 points, 59 percent to 40 percent. But McMahon has made inroads with women in the new poll, trailing Murphy by just 4 points, 50 percent to 46 percent. McMahon leads among male voters, 54 percent to 42 percent; Blumenthal won men in 2010, 52 percent to 46 percent.
Asked whether each candidate "has the right kind of experience" to be a senator, 52 percent say that Murphy does, but 50 percent also say that McMahon has the right kind of experience. In Quinnipiac's first likely-voter poll last cycle, in September 2010, 56 percent said McMahon did not have the right kind of experience.
McMahon is also being propelled by the surprising strength of the GOP standard-bearer, Mitt Romney
, at the top of the ticket. President Obama
leads Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, 52 percent to 45 percent. Likely voters are split on Obama's job performance -- 49 percent approve, and 48 percent disapprove -- far worse than the 54-percent approval rating Obama recorded among 2010 voters, according to exit polls.
"The smaller-than-expected margin for Obama could affect the Senate race," said Quinnipiac Univ. Poll director Doug Schwartz
. "The Murphy campaign is hoping to benefit from Obama's coattails, but right now they are not very long."
Fueled by $12.4 million
of her own money, McMahon's campaign blanketed the state with television ads in the lead-up to the primary as part of an effort to recalibrate her image. The campaign commercials have played up McMahon's humble beginnings, as well as some economic hardships she endured with her husband early in their business careers. The vast majority of likely voters -- 83 percent -- say they have seen McMahon's television ads, according to the poll, compared to 65 percent who have seen Murphy's spots.
The poll was conducted Aug. 22-26, surveying 1,472 likely voters. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 2.6 percentage points.