"I'm somewhat surprised at the size of the Fitzpatrick lead, but I'm not surprised that he has a lead," said poll director G. Terry Madonna.
Perhaps more ominous for Murphy, an Iraq War vet who was re-elected in 2008 with 57 percent of the vote, is that only 40 percent of registered voters in the district say he deserves re-election. Forty-seven percent say it's time for a change, according to today's poll.
"These are numbers that typically get an incumbent in real trouble," Madonna said.
Democrats have a voter-registration edge in the district, which President Obama carried with 54 percent of the vote in 2008. But only 37 percent of district voters now give Obama a positive job-performance rating. Madonna said Murphy's support for the president and apathy among Democratic voters leave him vulnerable in November.
"The identification with the president has not been helpful to Murphy. I think that's a serious problem," Madonna said. "Does anyone believe that this horrendous political environment for Democrats would not play out in the suburbs?"
Murphy has a large fundraising advantage, and both candidates launched their opening TV ads last week. But Fitzpatrick is getting help from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is funding an attack ad tying Murphy to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Obama's stimulus package. Murphy hasn't received that kind of support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
"Do I think there's some wiggle room yet for Murphy? Yeah," Madonna said. "Would I call the contest over in an election like this? Absolutely not. Murphy has a lot of money and he has represented this district for four years."
Among the poll's other notable findings:
* Eight percent of Republican likely voters plan to cross parties and support Murphy, while 18 percent of Democrats said they'd vote for Fitzpatrick. Independent voters back Fitzpatrick, 38-31, with 31 percent undecided. Fitzpatrick is leading Murphy among men (50-33) and women (48-38).
* Forty-two percent of respondents said the economy was the most important issue, followed by personal finances/unemployment (15 percent), health care/insurance (13 percent) and taxes (6 percent).
* Seventeen percent of registered voters are undecided and 15 percent of likely voters are undecided. The poll was conducted by the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College, which surveyed 464 registered voters in the district Sept. 14-19 The sample error is plus or minus 4.5 percent.