Connecticut Senate: Move to Lean Democrat

Stuart Rothenberg August 29, 2012 · 2:08 AM EDT

Less than two years ago, Republican Linda McMahon drew just 43 percent of the vote in Connecticut’s Senate race after spending over $50 million on her candidacy. Given that showing, there was little reason to believe than another run by McMahon, a businesswoman who ran a professional wrestling entertainment company, would produce a better result.

But with only a little more than three months to go until Election Day, McMahon appears to be very much in this year’s Nutmeg State U.S. Senate race.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed her holding a narrow lead over Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy, but it isn’t the only survey that we are aware of showing that Republican ahead.

McMahon changed her campaign team and her strategy after her 2010 loss, lowering her profile for a while as she built relationships throughout the state. Her new team, according to observers, has fashioned a more focused and disciplined campaign, with strong TV ads aimed at re-introducing her as someone who is likable and approachable.

Polling suggests that McMahon has improved her standing with Republicans, Democrats and Independents, and her Democratic opponent still isn’t as known as well statewide as he needs to be – or as he will be.

Democratic strategists have asked, “If McMahon couldn’t get close to Democrat Richard Blumenthal in 2010, a big GOP year, then how can she defeat Murphy in a presidential year and with President Obama carrying Connecticut?”

But, as one Connecticut Democrat notes, there was no Republican wave in Connecticut in 2010, and Blumenthal, who had served as state attorney general for many years, had the statewide recognition and reputation that Murphy does not.

National Democratic strategists repeatedly express skepticism that McMahon can and will mount a serious bid in a state that went for Obama by more than 20 points four years ago. But some experienced Connecticut Democratic observers say that the national party is “in denial” and will soon realize that it will have to spend plenty of money in a state it expected would already be in the Democratic column.

Wise observers from both sides of the aisle note that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Murphy have not yet filled the state’s airwaves with ads, and the state still prefers Democrats. And, of course, the president will win the state in November, though not with nearly the margin he did four years ago.

Increasingly, this Senate contest looks as if McMahon and Murphy could fight it out until Election Day. For now, however, we are moving the race from Democrat Favored to the more competitive rating of Lean Democrat. A shift down the road to the Toss-up category does not seem impossible.

Given developments elsewhere, GOP Senate prospects in Connecticut look somewhat brighter than they do in places like Hawaii, New Mexico and probably even Ohio. And that is a substantial shift from where the Connecticut Senate race stood even six months ago.