Connecticut Senate race moves to ‘lean Democratic’

Is the second time the charm for Linda McMahon?

Two years after $50 million in self-funding earned the former professional wrestling executive a 12-point loss in an open Connecticut Senate race, she's trying again. And so far, she's looking (surprisingly) good.

The Fix is moving Connecticut's open Senate race from "solid Democratic" to "lean Democratic" on our 2012 Senate map -- a reflection of the fact that the race is moving in Republicans' favor and is now firmly in play in 2012.

After blowing out former congressman Chris Shays in the GOP primary last month, two general election polls in recent weeks have shown McMahon leading Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) by a couple points. Quinnipiac University last week put McMahon up by three points, while automated pollster Rasmussen put her up by two. (Democratic-leaning automated pollster Public Policy Polling showed Murphy up by four around the same time.)

In addition, Murphy has suffered a couple of tough headlines over the past week. First, a columnist (and former Republican state senator) revealed that Murphy faced foreclosure on his home in 2007, shortly after being elected to Congress. And later in the week, the Hartford Courant reported that Murphy had also failed to pay his rent in 2003.

"Ultimately, I'm not a perfect person,'' Murphy said Friday in response to the stories. "I've made mistakes. But when I made mistakes, I immediately corrected them."

It's not clear that either of these stories are game-changers -- plenty of Americans have faced economic hardship in recent years -- but they're certainly not helpful. And Republicans have pointed out that despite his problems, Murphy got more credit from his bank in 2008. The bank is both a campaign contributor and has paid Murphy for legal services.

(The implication here is that Murphy, like former Connecticut senator Chris Dodd, got a sweetheart deal from a lender. So far, there's no proof of this, and the bank, Webster Bank, says it treated Murphy no different than anybody else. McMahon is calling for an investigation.)

All of this aside, this is still Connecticut, and McMahon lost by double digits in the best Republican year in decades in 2010.

Democrats also had problems in that campaign. Specifically, the GOP looked as though it turned the race on its head after then-state attorney general Richard Blumenthal was found to have exaggerated his service in Vietnam.

Blumenthal's sky-high approval rating helped him overcome it all -- along with plenty of hits on McMahon's stewardship of World Wrestling Entertainment.

And that's really the big question here: Assuming Murphy doesn't face lasting damage from his financial situation, how does McMahon fare with her own vulnerabilities?

The last campaign -- complete with all the stories about vulgarity, steroids and death in the WWE -- knocked McMahon down a few pegs. As late as September 2011 (10 months after the 2010 campaign ended) her unfavorable rating in Quinnipiac's polling (45 percent) was still significantly higher than her favorable rating (38 percent).

Today, those numbers are much better -- 47 percent favorable and 35 percent unfavorable. McMahon has taken care to run plenty of ads playing up her successful business career in hopes of warding off the attacks that are sure to come. But to this point, Democrats haven't unleashed the full assault. Yet.

The good news for Republicans is that Murphy is not Blumenthal, an extremely popular and well known statewide elected official. The good news for Democrats is that 2012 is not 2010. What really matters here is whether Linda McMahon 2012 is better than Linda McMahon 2010.

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