Posted 3/26/12

Define "Good"

Christopher Shays
Photo by Steve Kotchko

Quinnipiac University Poll Director Douglas Schwartz said his latest survey amounts to “good news” for Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy and Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Christopher Shays.  Yet a closer analysis might have you asking:  “Define good?”

“The poll is good news for Chris Shays, he’s narrowed the gap in the Republican primary for U.S. Senator with Linda McMahon,” said Schwartz.  “In our previous poll (last September) he trailed by 15 points, he now trails McMahon by nine points,” he explained.  “Shays is now within striking distance of McMahon.”

There was more “good” news for Shays in the Q-poll.  When the survey matched Shays, a former congressman known as a moderate Republican, up against top Democrats in the Senate race Christopher Murphy and Susan Bysiewicz, Shays performed neck-and-neck with the Dems.  By contrast, the two Democrats each crush McMahon in matchups by double digits.

Shays himself buys into the analysis that the Q-poll shows his strength across party lines.  He told the Hartford Courant:  “It’s clear that I’m the only Republican who can win in November.  “I’m literally in a dead heat with the two leading Democratic candidates in what is one of the most Democratic states in the country.”

The only problem is that the state GOP, up to this point, is not rushing to Shays’ side.  McMahon has announced a steady stream of endorsements from GOP town committees and other Republican officials.  She recently unveiled a major economic initiative and is now on the “jobs” tour of the state.  By contrast Shays has run a low-key campaign.

McMahon’s ace in the hole is her personal wealth.  The former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO spent $50 million on her unsuccessful 2010
Senate bid, and she has the power at any time to ratchet up her personal spending to handle any “problem” that appears—such as Shays.

The odds are McMahon will capture the GOP endorsement for Senator at the party’s nominating convention in May.  Shays vows to take McMahon to an August primary to wrest the nomination away from her.

In a Democrat-oriented “blue” state like Connecticut, it would be wise for Republicans to stage a battle royal this year for a Senate seat.  If they lose, as they did in 2010 to Democrat Richard Blumenthal, they could find themselves on the outside looking in for years to come if two Democrats become entrenched incumbents for decades a la Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman.

While you can debate whether the poll stats really are “good” news for underdog Shays, it would be hard to find any good news in the poll for McMahon.  When voters were asked for their opinion of McMahon by the Q-Poll, the largest group, 45%, rated her “unfavorable.”

Asked if there’s any sign that voters have mellowed on McMahon since her 2010 defeat, pollster Schwartz replied:  “No.  She still has high negatives.  There is a gender gap, where women are slightly more negative toward Linda McMahon than men.”  That last note is of concern, because McMahon claims she’s been making a concerted effort this time around to meet with, and explain herself, to women voters.

The McMahon campaign brushed off the poll and said the candidate is focusing on promoting her ideas for improving the economy and creating jobs for Connecticut.

As mentioned earlier, Schwartz also contends the new Q-poll contains “good” news for Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy.  That assessment is based on poll results that show Malloy with a 44% job approval rating among Connecticut voters.  This latest number compares a 41% rating back in September, and a dismal 35% rating a year ago.

Slowly, Malloy is gaining ground with Connecticut voters.  However, it should be noted that on the job approval question, the largest group of voters, 45%, said they “disapprove” of the way Malloy is handling the governorship.

Bottom line, the upward trend is hopeful for the Malloy camp, but it would be foolish to start popping champagne corks.

Schwartz himself has said many times in the past that any elected official who chalks up a job approval rating of less than 50% needs to be worried about his or her future.  He said that the 44% rating for Malloy is “lukewarm, but not bad considering he raised the (state) income tax across the board in his first year in office.”

The pollster believes time is Malloy’s friend.  The Governor does not have to seek reelection until 2014.  If last year’s tax hikes and other measures stabilize the state budget, and the overall economy continues to improve, Malloy can take initiatives in advance of any 2014 reelection bid to give himself a good chance for win a new four-year term.

When reporters asked Malloy for a comment on the “good” news poll, Malloy declined to take the bait, knowing he’s avoided comment on past polls that had more negative numbers.  “We don’t talk about polls,” said the Governor.  “You don’t want me to change that policy,” he said.  “I try to make judgments on what’s in the best interest of the state of Connecticut, and manage for the long term, not the short term.”

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