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WI-Gov: Walker Leads in First Head-to-Head Polls of Recall

Despite the vulnerabilities of Scott Walker in the upcoming recall election, he also has plenty of advantages. It’s very difficult to recall a governor, it’s only been done twice in American history. Because of the rules governing the recall, Walker can continue to raise unlimited campaign funds until the date is set for the recall. And he has used this time to raise millions of dollars and already start running ads defending his tenure. What’s more, there’s no consensus candidate yet on the Democratic side to consolidate support.

And all of that is playing out in the first head-to-head poll of the recall election. Walker leads all potential opponents by anywhere from 6-10 points, though he barely scrapes the 50% threshold seen as important for incumbent viability.

The poll finds Walker ahead of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett by a 50 percent to 44 percent margin. Walker leads the only announced Democratic candidate, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, with a 49 percent to 42 percent margin. Walker leads former Congressman David Obey by 49 percent to 43 percent. Janesville Democratic State Senator Tim Cullen receives 40 percent to Walker’s 50 percent. While Walker consistently leads his Democratic opponents, the size of the lead is within the poll’s margin of error for all but Cullen.

Professor Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll and visiting professor of law and public policy at Marquette Law School, noted, “The old line ‘you don’t beat somebody with nobody’ is true. Other polls have asked only if Governor Walker should be recalled and have found closer races. But in the end, some specific Democrat will face Governor Walker. This poll is the first of the year to match specific potential Democratic challengers against the governor. The results show a competitive race but one in which Governor Walker starts with an advantage.”

The poll also has Barack Obama up on Mitt Romney statewide 48-40, so I don’t think it’s a poll that oversamples Republicans.

One positive in the poll is that Walker has a 95% name ID, while only 61% have an opinion of Barrett, 44% for Falk, 42% for Obey and 18% for Cullen. So all the Democrats at least have some room to make a favorable opinion. Of these potential candidates, only Falk has so far declared that she’s running.

But ultimately, this is a referendum on the incumbent – literally so – and Walker is right at 50%. What’s more, the poll shows that independents have a favorable view of Walker by 54-34, and respondents believe that the changes in Wisconsin will make the state better off by 54-40. One vulnerability for Walker is this:

The poll asked respondents about job creation strategies. Asked if legislation aimed at increasing jobs in the state had succeeded, 31 percent said the legislation had increased jobs, though 44 percent said it had made no difference and 16 percent said the policies had decreased jobs.

Walker actually has a terrible jobs record, and Wisconsinites see that. But they have not yet been sold on the recall. And Walker will have millions of dollars to use to convince the public otherwise, and paint the recall effort as a radical takeover of the state. It will not be a cakewalk.

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David Dayen

David Dayen