By Brendan O'Brien
MADISON, Wisconsin (Reuters) - Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker is in a statistical tie with his chief Democratic rival, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, in a poll released on Wednesday less than five weeks before a June recall election with national implications for organized labor.
Barrett holds a big lead over fellow Democrats in the same survey for the right to challenge Walker, potentially setting up a rematch of the governor's race in 2010, which Walker won by nearly 6 percent.
Reflecting the state's deep political division, the poll showed Walker leading Barrett 48 percent to 47 percent among likely voters, and trailing the challenger 46 percent to 47 percent among registered voters. It has a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.
Some 5 percent of likely and 6 percent of registered voters were undecided.
"This is an awfully close race that can go either way and it is very consistent with polling across all the different polls that we have seen since January," said Marquette University Law School pollster Charles Franklin.
Walker enraged Democrats and unions representing government workers last year when he pushed through the legislature a measure reducing the powers of public sector unions.
The law forced workers to pay a portion of the cost of health insurance and pensions, capped wage increases and required most unions to be recertified every year.
Opponents staged massive protests at the state Capitol and later gathered nearly 1 million signatures to force Walker into a recall election. A primary will be held Tuesday to determine Walker's opponent, and the election is set for June 5.
If he loses, Walker would be only the third U.S. governor removed from office in a recall election.
CLOSING THE GAP
The poll suggested that Barrett has gained slightly on Walker since he entered the race in March. In prior Marquette polls, Barrett trailed Walker by 2 points a month ago and by 6 points in January.
"Tom (Barrett) has closed the gap significantly over the past month, proving that the people of Wisconsin are simply not buying Walker's claim that his ideological civil war is right for our state," Barrett's campaign said.
Less than a week before the primary, Democrats surveyed by the poll had Barrett at 38 percent, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk at 21 percent, Secretary of State Doug La Follette at 8 percent and state Senator Kathleen Vinehout at 6 percent. Nineteen percent of Democrats were undecided.
If Falk should win the Democratic primary, the poll showed Walker beating her 49 percent to 43 percent among likely voters.
Vast amounts of money are pouring into Wisconsin for the election with conservatives around the country supporting Walker and unions backing the Democrats. Walker has an enormous edge over Democratic challengers in fundraising.
Walker raised $13 million from January 17 through April 23, according to finance reports filed with Wisconsin - more than seven times the combined amount raised by Barrett and Falk.
The Marquette survey polled 705 registered Wisconsin voters, of whom 561 are likely voters, by telephone April 26-29.
A poll two weeks ago conducted by left-leaning Daily Kos and Public Policy Polling showed Walker leading Barrett 50 percent to 46 percent. That poll had a margin of error of 2.9 percent points.
(Editing by David Bailey and Xavier Briand)