Poll: Senate race still a dead heat

Hartford - The U.S. Senate race between Democrat Chris Murphy and Republican Linda McMahon remains locked in a statistical tie one month before Election Day, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.

The new opinion numbers, released Thursday, show 48 percent of likely voters supporting McMahon and 47 percent for Murphy with a 2.4 percent margin of error. The previous Q-poll had McMahon with a 3-point lead in late August; a poll last week by an out-of-state group gave Murphy a slight lead.

The new Quinnipiac survey also reveals enthusiasm and favorability gaps that benefit McMahon.

Fifty percent of McMahon's backers were "very enthusiastic" about her, while 27 percent of Murphy's supporters were as excited about him. (An additional 55 percent of Murphy supporters were "somewhat enthusiastic," compared to 39 percent of McMahon's.)

Overall, 45 percent of all likely voters held a favorable opinion of McMahon, but only 36 percent thought favorably of Murphy.

"Connecticut voters like Linda McMahon more than Christopher Murphy," said Douglas Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac poll. "But the Democrat seems to be holding his own against the onslaught of negative advertising."

Murphy attributes his lukewarm showing to McMahon's big campaign and ad spending. The WWE mogul has poured more than $15 million of her family's fortune into this year's race after spending $50 million in her unsuccessful 2010 Senate bid.

"We've been outspent by a 3-to-1 margin," Murphy told reporters Thursday.

"Connecticut has always been a competitive state. We've had Republican governors for years, and any partisan (voter registration) advantage is dwarfed by the fact that Linda McMahon is trying to buy this election."

Meanwhile, McMahon's campaign manager, Corry Bliss, saw the Q-poll results as more voters embracing McMahon and her six-point jobs plan as they grow weary of Murphy, a 39-year-old "lifetime politician," currently the state's 5th Congressional District representative, who has faced unflattering revelations about overdue rent, mortgage and car payments in the late 1990s through mid-2000s.

Murphy fielded questions about the poll as he arrived for a Hartford campaign event designed to contrast his and McMahon's positions on federal tax policy.

He said the biggest difference is that his policies would help middle-class families and McMahon's would coddle the wealthy and grow the nation's deficit.

Murphy agrees with President Obama on extending most Bush-era income tax cuts beyond their scheduled Jan. 1 expiration, with the crucial exception of those benefiting high-earners, such as couples making more than $250,000 a year.

"If massive tax cuts for the wealthy created jobs, then this economy would not have collapsed in 2008," Murphy said.

McMahon, too, wants to extend all Bush-era tax cuts, but unlike Murphy and Obama, would let high earners keep their tax breaks because in a fragile economy, "now is not the time to be increasing taxes on anyone," her campaign said Thursday.

During a campaign roundtable event, Murphy told four Hartford-area businessmen that he wants to devote half the money raised by increasing high-earners' taxes to paying down the national debt. The other half would go toward investments for the middle class.

Two of the four men described themselves as high earners who want the government to raise their taxes.

Murphy said he worries "that people like Linda McMahon, who say they won't support a tax cut for the middle class unless the tax cut for the wealthy is included, are really jeopardizing those tax cuts for the middle class by holding those tax cuts for the middle class hostage."

McMahon's campaign said the remark is untrue.

"Chris Murphy is intentionally and willfully distorting Linda McMahon's record and positions," McMahon's spokesman, Todd Abrajano, said.

Murphy shared his campaign staff's analysis of McMahon's jobs plan - the centerpiece of her campaign - and claimed that her plan would add nearly $4 trillion to the federal deficit over 10 years.

McMahon's campaign called Murphy wrong again. The New York-based economist-consultant who analyzed McMahon's plan - John Dunham of John Dunham and Associates - determined her plan would cut spending by about $1.7 trillion over nine years, largely by growing the economy, reducing spending, and ending an unspecified number of corporate tax loopholes and "corporate welfare."

The two candidates managed to agree on a couple of tax policy issues.

Both Murphy and the McMahon campaign went on record Thursday saying they support extending the temporary 2-percent payroll tax reduction that began in 2010 and is set to end Dec. 31. But news reports describe how Republican and Democratic leaders in Washington have expressed little desire in keeping that tax break going for the benefit of an estimated 160 million wage earners.

The tax holiday has meant an extra $20 a week for a worker with a $50,000 salary, according to The Associated Press.

"I support extending it and finding a way that Social Security remains solvent," Murphy said.

The Democrat said he and McMahon also appear to agree on lowering the nation's "noncompetitive" 35 percent top corporate tax rate and closing tax loopholes to pay for it. But he questioned aloud whether McMahon would end popular middle-class benefits, such as the mortgage tax credit, to keep taxes low for millionaires.

McMahon's campaign dismissed Murphy's speculation as a "complete lie."

"It appears Chris Murphy hasn't even read Linda's plan," Abrajano said.

Murphy also responded to McMahon's assertion made Wednesday night at a Groton campaign event that he has skipped 74 percent of all his committee meetings since being sworn in to Congress in January 2007. But he did not dispute the figure.

"My voting record is 97 percent in the United States Congress," Murphy said, "Any time that I have a choice between listening to politicians and lobbyists testify in Washington versus listening to my constituents back home, I listen to my constituents."

j.reindl@theday.com

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