Barrett-Walker debate

In a debate Friday, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, left, pushed Gov. Scott Walker to provide more information about a criminal investigation of his staff when he was Milwaukee County executive. Walker said Barrett's emphasis on the probe is a sign of desperation.

MORRY GASH — Associated Press

Gov. Scott Walker leads Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett by 7 percentage points just days away from Wisconsin's first-ever gubernatorial recall race, a poll released Wednesday said.

The new Marquette University Law School poll showed Walker holding his lead among likely voters, with 52 percent of those polled saying they would vote for the governor and 45 percent saying they would back Barrett.

The numbers are similar to the results released by Marquette pollsters two weeks ago, which showed a 50 to 44 percent lead for Walker.

"I think the stability of the last weeks is pretty striking," said Charles Franklin, the poll's director. "But I would encourage people to look at all of the polls and consider the sources."

Wednesday's numbers paint a different picture than those in the law school's poll released shortly before the May 8 recall primary, which showed Walker and Barrett in a virtual dead heat.

The latest Marquette poll interviewed 720 registered voters in Wisconsin by both land line and cellphone May 23-26, with most interviewed before Friday's debate. Among that group there were 600 "likely voters," or those who said they were certain to vote. About 60 percent of those interviewed for the poll were 45 or older, and about 93 percent identified themselves as white.

The margin of error for the poll's likely voters in the governor's race was about 4 percentage points.

Democrats slammed the poll as flawed, saying it was out of step with recent polls released by liberal groups and was skewed to favor older, more conservative voters.

"The bottom line is this race is very close," said Mike Tate, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. "It's going to come down to voter turnout."

Tate pointed to other recent polls, including internal Democratic polls and another released Wednesday by the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund by the national polling firm of Lake Research Partners found that Barrett and Walker were even at 49 percent each. Those pollsters said they conducted an automated survey of 600 likely recall voters May 24-28.

Barrett lost to Walker in the governor's race in November 2010 by about 123,000 votes, or 5 percentage points. Voter turnout then was 49.7 percent — about 2.1 million voters.

This time around, Wisconsin election officials are predicting 60 to 65 percent of the voting-age population, or about 2.6 million to 2.8 million people, will cast ballots.

Wednesday's Marquette poll showed voters' perceptions about the jobs situation in Wisconsin has shifted in recent weeks, with 38 percent of those polled saying the state has added jobs, 30 percent saying the state has lost jobs, and 29 percent saying the jobs situation is about the same. That's a more optimistic view than just two weeks ago, when only 20 percent said Wisconsin gained jobs and 37 percent said it lost jobs.

The poll also found that Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch continued to lead Democratic challenger Mahlon Mitchell, a Madison firefighter and president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin. The poll found she leads him 46 to 41 percent, similar to the 47 percent to 41 percent lead she had two weeks ago.

And it found that in the presidential race, President Barack Obama received 51 percent to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's 43 percent among likely voters.