The race for Connecticut governor, once an almost certain landslide for Republican incumbent John Rowland, has gotten a lot closer — and dirtier. Rowland, who in a June poll by researchers at Quinnipiac University boasted a 28-point lead over Democratic challenger Bill Curry, has seen his lead fall to just 9 points in the latest University of Connecticut poll.

On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that the Cook Political Report had revised its prediction for the outcome of the race from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.”

“[Until recently] we weren’t even on the radar screen as far as either group was concerned,” Curry said. “By all customary analysis, we should be nowhere.”

Despite the increasing momentum, however, Curry still has substantial ground to make up. In the candidates’ most recent filing, he trailed Rowland by what he called a “nearly unheard of” ratio of more than 5-to-1, $3.6 million to $700,000.

Curry said he hopes to leverage his newfound support to close the monetary gap, and said he is holding a fund raiser in Greenwich on Friday that will include New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Rowland has also stepped up his campaign in recent weeks. The governor has released a television ad that shows Curry with his arm around his running mate from the 1994 governor’s race, current Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim, who is now facing municipal corruption charges.

Rowland defended the ad earlier this week, accusing Curry of trying to link him to the Bridgeport corruption scandal.

“It’s not a cheap shot at all,” Rowland said. “What do I have to do with the Bridgeport scandal? I didn’t have Joe Ganim as my running mate.”

Rowland spokesman Chris Cooper did not return phone messages seeking comment regarding the campaign.

Curry has not hesitated to attack Rowland’s record as governor. Curry pointed to Connecticut’s debt, which he says is the highest of any state and is costing the state 11.8 percent of its annual budget in interest. Curry said he plans to reduce the state debt through a combination of reduced spending and a 1 percent increase in the state’s “millionaire tax” — which currently applies to income over $1 million — a measure Rowland had vetoed.

With the additional revenue gained from lower interest on the debt, Curry said he hopes to ease property taxes, particularly in urban areas, a proposal that New Haven Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Susan Voigt said would be particularly beneficial for cities like New Haven.

Rowland’s campaign has largely dismissed his challenger’s plan as fiscally impossible. He has also rejected Curry’s allegations of misconduct in a botched energy deal with Enron Corp. that cost Connecticut $220 million.

Curry previously ran against Rowland in 1994, losing by only 3 points and has not since held public office. Rowland has gone on to enjoy high approval ratings during his first two terms. Curry attributed his failure to defeat Rowland to the political climate in the mid-1990s, including the “Gingrich Revolution.”

“Every governor in America enjoyed high approval ratings due to the strength of the national economy,” Curry said. “Rowland is in trouble because he squandered the very prospects he was presented with.”

–The Associated Press contributed to this story.