More Motherly McMahon Aims for GOP Upset in Conn.

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"I disagree with Governor Romney's insinuation that 47 percent of Americans believe they are victims who must depend on the government for their care," McMahon said in a swiftly released statement.

The urgency of the situation isn't lost on Murphy, who's long been considered a rising star in his party.

Murphy, 39, got the attention of Democratic leaders six years ago when he toppled 24-year GOP Rep. Nancy Johnson. His campaign has struck back only recently with ads painting McMahon as a greedy wrestling mogul.

Murphy and his allies have had some success on that front. McMahon, who had filed for bankruptcy with her husband in 1976 with nearly $1 million in debts, announced recently she would repay her creditors, hoping to quell the attacks.

Schwartz noted that Murphy isn't as well-known statewide or as popular as Blumenthal, who served as the state's longtime attorney general before trouncing McMahon in 2010. That's given McMahon an opening to define Murphy before most voters get to know him by spending heavily and early on ads, Schwartz said.

McMahon enjoys a huge money advantage. She has lent or given nearly $16 million to her campaign. Murphy has raised less than $6 million.

She got an early jump, spending heavily on ads hammering Murphy for missing nearly 80 percent of the hearings held by two key congressional panels during the financial crisis. And she pounced on reports Murphy was sued in 2007 for defaulting on a home mortgage.

McMahon is reaching out to women voters to close the 20-point gender gap that doomed her 2010 campaign. She's held about 140 "Conversations With Linda" meetings with groups of 20 to 30 people, mostly women.

Another key finding of the Quinnipiac poll last month: McMahon is winning among independents, the state's largest voting bloc, by 15 points.

Bernie Grant of Naugatuck, retired from a pharmaceutical firm job, is the kind of independent McMahon needs. He voted for Blumenthal in 2010, but said he's likely voting for McMahon this fall.

"I'm more impressed with Linda this time around," he said, adding that her ads "made her softer and more acceptable."

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