Republican Tom Foley's month-long advantage in the down-and-dirty race for governor has disappeared, and it's now a dead heat with less than a month before the election, according to the new Quinnipiac University Poll of likely Connecticut voters.

But a Chicago-based aggregator of polls is showing the first-term Democrat with a 2.3 percent edge over the Greenwich investor in the rematch of the 2010 election that Malloy won by a slim 6,404 votes.

Political scientists attribute Malloy's gains to a highly effective advertising campaign.

Foley's 6-point edge from last month's Quinnipiac Poll is now a 43-43 percent deadlock among likely voters, with conservative independent Joe Visconti, of West Hartford, collecting 9 points.

Voters said if Visconti were not in the race, Malloy and Foley would still be tied at 46 percent. Foley's 19-point lead among men last month has been cut to 11 points, while Malloy's 7-point lead among women has grown to 11 points with four scheduled debates left. The next head-to-head encounter is Thursday afternoon at the Hartford Hilton.

"Malloy has been able to cut into Foley's lead among men while increasing his lead among women, to break even overall," said Douglas Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac poll. "There is a gender gap in the race with Malloy ahead by 11 percentage points among women and Foley up 11 points among men. While there are only 5 percent of likely voters undecided, 25 percent of voters could still change their minds," Schwartz said. "It looks like we're heading for another photo finish -- just like in 2010."

Voters `not wild about either candidate'

On Oct. 15, 2010, the respected poll from the Hamden-based university found Malloy with a 49-42 percent lead over Foley, which tilted back to a 48-45 point advantage for Foley the week of the election, just outside the 3.2 percent margin of error.

Schwartz said Wednesday the 1,085 likely voters surveyed from Oct. 1-6 -- a time frame that including a tense, aggressive debate last Thursday at the University of Connecticut in which Malloy brought up Foley's criminal record -- "are not overly fond of any of the candidates."

Malloy has a negative 41-51 percent favorability rating, compared to his negative 40-53 percent grade on Sept. 10. Foley gets 41-39 percent favorability, compared to a more-positive 42-33 percent from last month.

"As the campaign has gotten nasty, voters are not wild about either candidate," Schwartz said. "Malloy's favorability rating is still underwater. Foley gets a mixed favorability rating. He is a little better known since early September, but a little less liked. Voters like Foley less since our last poll. Foley's negatives have risen, perhaps due to Malloy's attacks."

The Republican-leaning, Chicago-based website, which aggregates poll data, on Wednesday gave Malloy an overall 2.3 percent advantage. Its rating includes this week's sample of 861 likely voters by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, which gives Malloy a 45-39 percent advantage over Foley; and September's CBS/New York Times Poll of 1,808 likely voters, which chose Malloy by 42 to 41 percent.

The Foley and Malloy camps reacted to the Quinnipiac Poll cautiously.

"From Day 1, we have treated this race like a dead heat, and we are going to continue to work as hard as possible every day between now and when the polls close on Nov. 4," said Chris Cooper, spokesman for Foley.

"Polls go up and down, but Gov. Malloy has always remained focused on doing the right thing for Connecticut working families," said Mark Bergman, of the governor's campaign.

Ad campaign shows effectiveness

Ronald Schurin, associate professor in residence of American Government and Politics at the University of Connecticut, believes Malloy's aggressive TV ads have attracted natural Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters back to him.

"Whether more advertising, more negative ads could increase that, I'm not sure," Schurin said in a phone interview Wednesday from the Storrs campus. "It may be possible that he's gotten all the bang for the buck that he can get."

Schurin said a turning point in the campaign might have been in the last few minutes of the Oct. 2 debate in UConn's Jorgensen Center, when Malloy repeated charges raised four years ago about Foley's past arrests involving misuse of motor vehicles.

"Foley replied with a repeat of his charge earlier in the debate that Malloy was investigated while mayor of Stamford," Schurin said. "Of course, anyone can get investigated, and there were no findings of corruption. I wondered if Malloy did this to get the newspapers to do follow-up stories about charges against Foley, rather than persuade the small number of people who tuned in to the debate."

Richard F. Hanley, associate professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University and director of the graduate program in journalism in a department unaffiliated with the polling institute, said Wednesday that Malloy's commercials are effective.

"Advertising works," Hanley said in a phone interview, stressing that women and blue-collar men have had prominent roles in Malloy's spots.

"This is an ad campaign to chip away Foley's strengths among men who typically vote for Republicans," Hanley said. "What Malloy is doing is peeling away votes from Foley's natural constituency among men and putting the concept into the mind of women voters that `he isn't for me.' "; 860-549-4670;;;