Posted 9/4/12

Senate Race Surprise

What, Me Worry?
U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy

Photo by Steve Kotchko

The Quinnipiac University Poll, in a voter survey done back in March, pitted Congressman Chris Murphy (D-CT) against Republican Linda McMahon in a hypothetical matchup of the two frontrunners in the race for U.S. Senate.  In that pairing, Murphy bested by McMahon by 15 percentage points.  No eyebrows were raised because McMahon had the stigma of losing the Senate battle in 2010, and Murphy was the favored Democratic hopeful in this “blue” or traditionally Democratic state of Connecticut.

That was then.  This is now.  The latest Quinnipiac poll shows Murphy behind in the Senate contest.  McMahon has a three point lead.  That is within the margin of error for the poll, so Poll Director Douglas Schwartz dubs the race “too close to call.”  However, some Democrats admit privately it is worrisome for Murphy to be behind at this point.  Another survey, the Rasmussen poll, showed McMahon ahead by the exact same three point margin.

“The (Quinnipiac University) poll is good news for Linda McMahon,” said Schwartz.  “Her edge is due to her double-digit (15%) lead among independent voters and being close among women, a group she struggled with in her 2010 run,” he explained.

“McMahon has worked on her image in the last two years, and it shows,” Schwartz continued.  “Voters like her more now than they did when she faced Richard Blumenthal in 2010.”  Indeed, 47% of voters in the new poll said they have a favorable opinion of McMahon, while just 38% have a favorable opinion of Murphy.

That is significant because McMahon’s image was under attack in 2010 and this year because of her past career as CEO of Stamford-based World Wrestling Entertainment, the pro wrestling enterprise that’s been criticized for excessive violence and sex in its TV and live productions.  Murphy, by contrast, has done nothing truly controversial, and yet his image is weak.  This may be due to his status as a congressman from one part of the state, making unfamiliar—or even unknown to many other Connecticut voters.

Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy came to Murphy’s defense, explaining that the poll ratings can be attributed to McMahon’s free use of her own money to build and shape her political profile.  “You’ve got somebody who’s spent $70 million in the last two years folks, and that buys you a lot of name recognition, and it might even turn your image around,” said the Governor.

Murphy himself tried to downplay his lagging performance in the polls by telling reporters a different survey, done by Public Policy Polling (PPP), shows him ahead by four points.  However, PPP is a survey organization with a long list of Democratic and liberal causes as clients.
            “This race is tight,” Murphy admitted, “and I think it’s going to be close (right) to the election,” he said.  “Voters made a decision two years ago that Linda McMahon was not a credible candidate for U.S. Senate, and I think (during the campaign) voters will be reminded of the reasons why she didn’t pass their test in 2010,” he concluded.

Beyond the Senate race, there are other indicators that may make Democrats in this “blue” state feel  blue.  In that March Quinnipiac Poll, Democratic President Barack Obama led Republican Mitt Romney by 16 points in a hypothetical matchup.  In the latest survey, Obama’s lead shrunk to seven points.  If Murphy has high hopes of bringing Obama to Connecticut to campaign for him, both men may have to work hard to improve their numbers instead of Murphy benefiting from presidential “coattails”.

Fifth District Republican congressional nominee State Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-Goshen) contends there is a wind of change blowing in Connecticut that may be a harbinger of GOP wins.  “Each and every day I meet more and more members of the President’s party (Democrats) who voted for him four years ago, but now have buyer’s remorse,” Roraback said.  “They want to try something different, so I think there may be a November surprise in Connecticut.”

Pollster Schwartz said there is plenty of time for Murphy to get on track and perhaps overtake McMahon.   At least four debates are set, and Democrats believe Murphy can go after his GOP rival on issues such as Social Security, Medicare, and health care in general, tying her to the very conservative positions on these issues fostered by the national GOP ticket of Romney and Ryan.

If the Senate race remains tight, you can also count on the national Democratic Party to focus more money and experienced staff to the race.  Democrats cling to a narrow lead in the Senate, and certainly do not want to give away a seat that until now they thought was safe in the hands of the Murphy campaign.

Follow Steve Kotchko on Twitter for news and insider tidbits on politics and government@CRN_News