Handicapping CT-SEN: The crucial week ahead

We’re all about one-stop shopping here at CT Politics.

So from here on out through Election Day, we thought we’d give you a weekly primer on the latest polling data in the battle royale between Republican Linda McMahon and Democrat Christopher Murphy that could determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

Real Clear Politics, which takes an average of the leading public opinion polls out there in the political universe, has Murphy clinging to a lead of 2.4 percentage points.

The upcoming week could arguably set the tone for the duration of the race.

Here’s why:

WEDNESDAY: Murphy and McMahon should have a vested interest in tonight’s presidential debate in Denver, the first showdown between President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The conventional wisdom is Romney, who is trailing in most swing state polls, needs to come up with a big performance. Anything less, and down-ticket Republicans in blue states such as McMahon could be facing a stiff headwind come Nov. 6.

THURSDAY: Quinnipiac University drops its first poll since Aug. 28, when the Hamden-based polling institute had McMahon leading for the first time in the contest by 3 percentage points. This should give a strong sense on how McMahon’s inartful comments, made to tea party members earlier this year and recently dug up by the Huffington Post, that Social Security legislation should have a “sunset provision” goes over among likely voters. It will also be an opportunity to see how much damage Murphy has done to his prospects with his 25 percent attendance rate at committee hearings during his three terms in the House, as well as his being threatened with foreclosure over late mortgage payments.

FRIDAY: The Department of Labor will release its jobs report for the month of September. Another lackluster showing could play into McMahon’s narrative that Washington outsiders with business credentials are what’s needed in the Senate, not career politicians.

SUNDAY: The gauntlet of the debate season will begin this Sunday at the Rocky Hill studios of WFSB Channel 3, where Murphy and McMahon will joust in their first tete-a-tete. A gaffe here could be disastrous. This will be the first serious opportunity for journalists to pin down McMahon and Murphy without the spin of their handlers.

Neil Vigdor