[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/03/17/art.lindamcmahon3.gi.jpg caption ="Linda McMahon, a former pro wrestling executive turned Senate candidate, leads her nearest Connecticut GOP primary challenger by 10 points in a new poll."](CNN) - A new poll suggests that big bucks are helping a former professional wrestling executive surge to the top in the battle for the Republican Senate nomination in Connecticut.
According to a Quinnipiac University survey of Connecticut voters released Wednesday morning, Linda McMahon leads former Rep. Rob Simmons 44 to 34 percent in the GOP primary matchup, with businessman Peter Schiff at 9 percent and 12 percent undecided. McMahon's 10 point lead is a dramatic swing from a 10 point deficit in a Quinnipiac poll conducted two months ago.
"What explains Linda McMahon's rise in the polls? Money. She is the only Senate candidate on TV right now. She quickly has become as well-known and well-liked among Republicans as the former frontrunner for the Republican nomination, three-term Congressman Rob Simmons," says Quinnipiac University Poll Director Douglas Schwartz.
"We are very encouraged by the results of this poll. We have said for months that the momentum behind Linda's candidacy is real and undeniable," says McMahon campaign spokesman Ed Patru. "This poll confirms what we are seeing in our own internal polls: Linda's standing against Rob Simmons continues to improve month by month, and Republicans are excited about Linda being their nominee against Dick Blumenthal this fall."
But the poll also indicates that by a 46 to 36 percent margin, Connecticut voters say they prefer a candidate who relies on campaign donations, rather than a wealthy candidate who relies on his/her own funds.
"It should be no surprise to anyone that after six months and millions and millions of dollars in uncontested spending, including on misleading negative attack mail against Rob Simmons that Factcheck.org deemed riddled with falsehoods, that Linda McMahon would be able to buy an improvement in her polling," says Simmons campaign manager Jim Barnett.
According to the survey, the likely Democratic nominee, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, flattens his GOP opponents in hypothetical general election matchups. Blumenthal tops McMahon by 33 points, Simmons by 35 points, and Schiff by 43 points. The poll also indicates that Blumenthal flattens Merrick Alpert 81 to 6 percent in the Democratic primary matchup.
Nearly 8 in 10 people questioned approve of the job Blumenthal is doing as attorney general.
"Blumenthal's approval rating continues to be near 80 percent. While money could make the difference in the Republican primary, it will have less of an effect in the general election. It is very hard to change the public's opinion of an elected official they have known and liked for 20 years," adds Schwartz.
Blumenthal, Connecticut's attorney general for the past two decades, announced his candidacy on January 6, a couple of hours after fellow Democrat Chris Dodd, a five term senator, announced he would not run for re-election this November. Dodd had been considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats seeking-re-election in 2010.
The Quinnipiac University poll was conducted March 9-15, with 1,451 registered Connecticut voters questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.
–Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @psteinhausercnn