HARTFORD, Conn. — There may have been predictions of his political demise in Washington, but Democratic Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal's campaign on Thursday proudly pointed to a new statewide poll that shows Connecticut voters still strongly support their attorney general.
The Quinnipiac University survey was the polling institute's first since Blumenthal, the longtime state attorney general, admitted he misspoke about his military service on various occasions by saying he served "in" Vietnam when he actually served stateside as a member of the Marine reserve.
The poll, conducted May 24-25, shows Blumenthal leading the endorsed Republican Senate candidate, former wrestling executive Linda McMahon, by a 56 percent to 31 percent margin in the race to fill the seat being vacated by the retiring Sen. Chris Dodd. Blumenthal had led McMahon 61 percent to 28 percent in a March 17 survey.
The telephone survey of 1,159 registered voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.
Sixty-one percent of voters said the controversy surrounding Blumenthal's misstatements didn't make a difference in how they plan to vote for the Democrat in November, while 33 percent said it makes them less likely to vote for him.
"The people of Connecticut know Dick Blumenthal," said Marla Romash, a consultant to Blumenthal's Senate campaign. "They know his record and they know his advocacy and they know the difference he's made for people."
McMahon's campaign questioned the validity of the poll, calling it "curious and perhaps odd," citing other recent polls that showed the race tighter.
Asked if the results will lead to McMahon backing away from the Vietnam issue, Ed Patru, a campaign spokesman, said: "This election will not be a referendum on military service, any more than it will be a referendum on wrestling."
Patru made it clear the campaign plans to focus on voters' frustrations with Washington and the state of the economy in general.
"People want to shake up Washington and they want jobs, so the question on the minds of voters next November will be: Can a career politician who believes lawsuits create jobs accomplish this, or will it take an outsider with real world business experience," Patru said.
The poll comes days after McMahon received the Republican endorsement for Senate, besting former Rep. Rob Simmons, who announced this week he was ending his campaign but leaving his name on the Aug. 10 primary ballot.
Despite her convention success, the new poll shows that McMahon's popularity has apparently dropped. When asked to give an opinion of McMahon, who said she will spend as much as $50 million of her own money on the race, 32 percent of the voters said they had a favorable opinion while 39 percent had an unfavorable opinion and 27 percent hadn't heard enough about her.
The March 17 survey showed 36 percent had a favorable opinion of her while 26 percent had an unfavorable opinion.
"The more voters get to know McMahon, the less they like her," Schwartz said.
State Rep. Larry Cafero, Republican leader of the House of Representatives, said he believes the scrutiny of Blumenthal has just begun and the new Quinnpiac poll does not prove that he has weathered the storm.
"All we know about Dick Blumenthal is what Dick Blumenthal wants us to know about Dick Blumenthal," said Cafero, who was first elected to the House in 1993 and acknowledges he really doesn't feel like he knows Blumenthal.
"We're starting to see a Dick Blumenthal that no one else knew," he said. "I think the more people get to know any candidate, the more they're going to scrutinize whether they like that person."
Blumenthal leads McMahon on all of the poll's questions about personal attributes, such as having the right experience to be a senator, caring about the needs and problems of people, strong leadership qualities and being honest and trustworthy.
The Democrat, however, took his biggest hit on the question of honesty and trustworthiness. While 60 percent agreed that he is, that's a 21 percentage point drop from a Jan. 14 Quinnipiac University poll in which 81 percent said he's honest and trustworthy.
Forty-five percent of respondents said McMahon has those attributes.