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The Connecticut Senate race tightens (or does it?)

Is professional wrestling CEO Linda McMahon closing in on state Attorney general Dick Blumenthal in the Connecticut Senate race? AP Photo

A new Quinnipiac University poll shows Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) with a slim six-point edge over former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon (R) in the state's Senate race, a gap that may lead to a re-examining of the competitiveness of the contest.

Blumenthal took 51 percent to 45 percent for McMahon among likely voters in the survey, which was in the field from Sept. 8-12.

Inside the numbers, it seems clear that the national winds blowing in Republicans' direction are also affecting the Nutmeg State.

President Barack Obama's job approval rating is at 45 percent, a far cry from the 61 percent he won in Connecticut in 2008. Twice as many voters say their vote this fall will be to express opposition to President Obama (33 percent) as say it will be to show support for him (16 percent). And, voters are evenly split between preferring a Democratic-controlled Senate (39 percent) and one led by Republicans (40 percent).

National Democrats -- aware of the danger of another Senate seat being added to an already wide playing field -- quickly released internal numbers that suggested the Quinnipiac poll was an outlier.

In a survey conducted by Dave Beattie for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Blumenthal led McMahon 54 percent to 39 percent. The atmospheric numbers were also far better for Democrats in their internal poll with President Obama at 55 percent on the job approval question. (There are also internal Blumenthal numbers being whispered about that put their candidate up by 20 points.)

The truth of the race, as almost always, likely lies somewhere between the Q poll and the DSCC numbers. (Worth noting: The Real Clear Politics average of all polling conducted in the contest gives Blumenthal as 7.5 percent edge.)

Even so, there are Democrats in the state and nationally who have privately fretted about the race for months and insisted that the dominant narrative of the race -- "popular politician set to cruise to victory" -- was fundamentally flawed for two major reasons.

The first is McMahon's money. She has pledged to spent upwards of $50 million of her own fortune on her candidacy and, as of early August, she had dropped nearly half that sum to win the Republican nomination over on-again, off-again challenger Rob Simmons.

While Connecticut is a small(ish) state -- the Fix will listen to no criticism of his home state -- the southwestern portion of it, which also happens to be the area the two parties fight over in nearly every statewide election, is covered by the very costly New York City media market.

McMahon's personal wealth allows her to flood the airwaves -- in New York City and elsewhere -- with ads touting her credentials and bashing Blumenthal. While Blumenthal is no fundraising slouch -- he has already spent $1.7 million on television -- his spending has been and will continue to be dwarfed by McMahon's checkbook.

Second, Blumenthal is, by several accounts, a bit unsteady on the campaign trail -- allowing McMahon to take the fight to him rather than prosecuting the race against her. (The New York Times wrote a scathing piece on Blumenthal's skills as a candidate back in the spring.)

Some of that campaign rust is rightly attributable to the fact that Blumenthal has not run a serious campaign in 20 years and is not, by nature, a fluid candidate on the stump.

Blumenthal's long resume in politics -- once considered a major asset -- may also be working against him in a year where voters appear to be craving outsiders promising to shake up the political status quo.

One interesting finding in the Quinnipiac poll illustrates that point. Asked whether McMahon's work as CEO of WWE made them more or less likely to vote for her, 20 percent of likely voters said more while 33 percent said less and 47 percent said it didn't make a difference. While those numbers are far from stellar, they suggest that simply highlighting McMahon's resume isn't a silver bullet winner for Democrats and may, in fact, help her in some segments of the electorate.

(By way of context, 37 percent of people said Blumenthal's "statements regarding his military service during the Vietnam War" made them less likely to vote for him while one percent said it made them more likely to cast a ballot for the Democrat and 60 percent said it made no difference.)

The best thing Blumenthal has going for him -- no matter which poll you look at -- is that voters like him and think he has done a good job as the state's top cop.

In the Q poll, 55 percent of likely voters view him favorably and a whopping 70 percent approve of how he has handled his job as state Attorney General. The DSCC poll pegs Blumenthal's favorability at a stellar 61 percent.

Democrats have to hope that Blumenthal's personal connection with Connecticut voters -- he has been at every event in every city in the state for two decades -- can overcome what seems to be a national climate that, even in a Democratic-leaning state like Connecticut, favors Republicans.

But, as has been proven time and time again this cycle, candidates and the campaigns they run matter. Blumenthal is still rightly regarded as the favorite but this is simply not a race Democrats can take for granted.

By Chris Cillizza  | September 14, 2010; 11:15 AM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Next: Daily Fix Poll: What was the biggest upset of the 2010 primary season?

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