Democratic front runner Chris Murphy leads Shays only 43-39 in a hypothetical match up. And Shays beats both Susan Bysiewicz (48-37) and William Tong (46-27). Shays' strength lies in his appeal to Democrats and independents. Democrats actually see him favorably by a 41/27 margin, and he wins anywhere from 13% of the Democatic vote (against Murphy) to 24% of it (against Bysiewicz.) He also leads with independents by margins ranging from 9 points against Murphy to 33% against Tong.
The problem for Shays is that the moderation that makes him popular across party lines doesn't do much for him with Republican voters. Only 34% of them see him him favorably to 30% with a negative opinion, pretty tepid numbers to have within your own party. Those numbers pale in comparison to Linda McMahon's- 63% of Republicans have a positive opinion of her to 25% with an unfavorable one and given that it's no surprise that primary numbers we'll release next week show McMahon with a large lead.
Unfortunately for Republicans McMahon doesn't have Shays' appeal to Democrats and isn't as strong with independents either and that makes her a much weaker general election candidate. Murphy leads her by 7 points at 50-43, Bysiewicz is up a point on her at 47-46, and she leads Tong by just a 45-38 spread. On average she does 9 points worse than Shays against the three primary Democratic candidates.
PPP first polled on Murphy and Bysiewicz statewide in January of 2010. Since then their fortunes have gone in very different directions. Back then Murphy's favorability was a +9 spread at 30/21 and now it's pretty much unchanged at +7 (35/28). Early last year Bysiewicz was far more popular than Murphy with her favorability breaking down at +23 (39/16). Her image has taken a turn completely in the wrong direction and now she's far more unpopular than Murphy at -12 (29/41). Her net favorability has declined 35 points over the last year and a half and it looks increasingly like her nomination would really put this seat in jeopardy for Democrats.
This race really is 2010 all over again for Republicans, not just in Connecticut but nationally. If Shays is the nominee this is really a winnable race for the GOP. But the party base is very skeptical of him and if Linda McMahon and her overall 39/49 favorability rating win the nomination again it's hard to see Republicans winning, especially if Democrats go with their more electable candidate in Murphy. GOP voters will just have to decide if they're willing to compromise on ideology for a big upgrade in electability. They weren't last year, but maybe they'll learn their lesson for 2012.
Full results here