There was a school of thought that a recall election in Wisconsin, a year-plus after the initial wound of anti-union legislation that stirred large protests around the state, would find that Scott Walker had rebuilt his coalition.   Once far from the intensity of the collective bargaining incident, he would have the upper hand in re-election. The million-plus signatures delivered by grassroots organizers, which Walker won’t challenge, showed that the passion still burns. And a new poll from Public Policy Polling makes clear that Walker is entirely beatable:

Wisconsin voters are split down the middle in terms of whether to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, 49%-49%, but a closer look at prospective matchups suggests that Walker is headed for the battle of his political life to survive a recall challenge. Walker’s approval rating sits at 47% approval and 52% disapproval.

With the exception of former Senator Russ Feingold, who would beat Walker 52-45, Walker either wins or loses to a slate of prospective challengers by +/- 3% points. The kicker is that many of Walker’s prospective opponents are far less known than he is, suggesting his challengers may make up even more ground as the electorate gets to know them. Mayor of Milwaukee Tom Barrett is leading Walker 49-46, with a favorability rating of 41/33 and 27% of voters not sure about him. Kathleen Falk leads Walker 48-47, with a 31/42 favorability rating and 27% of voters not sure about her. Walker leads former Congressman David Obey, 47-45, but 43% of voters don’t know enough about Obey to register an opinion on his favorability one way or the other. Similarly, Walker leads Jon Erpenbach 47-44, but 59% aren’t sure about Erpenbach. The same is true of Peter Barca (Walker wins 48-46, but 57% don’t know Barca), Ron Kind (Kind wins 46-45 despite 57% of voters not sure about him), Doug LaFollette (Walker beats him 46-45 with 49% of voters not sure about him), and Kathleen Vinehout – Walker beats her 46-44 with a full 60% of voters not knowing enough about Vinehout to form a favorable or unfavorable opinion of her.

A couple things here. Not only can Walker not get beyond 48% against anyone, despite having far superior name recognition, but these poll results come after Walker has actually gone on the air, on multiple occasions, touting his record. So with all the advertising on one side, Walker still cannot pull away, and is behind the most likely opponents, Falk and Barrett. In the poll, Barrett comfortably leads a hypothetical primary in Wisconsin, and if he chooses not to run, Falk leads.

So the question becomes why is Walker seeing such trouble in the polls. I think there are two factors. One, Walkergate, the John Doe investigation swirling around the Governor, has at least reflected a culture of scandal that will be hard for Walker to shake. But far more important than that, the economy has actually stalled on Walker’s watch, even as the economy has improved nationally. Job growth has been pathetic, and that’s starting to become a factor, I’m guessing.

Walker is trying to use outside tea party groups to passive-aggressively challenge the recall effort, but that’s highly unlikely to succeed. He will face a recall, and we now know it will be an uphill climb for him, with all the energy and momentum – and the organizing network – on the Democratic side.

The recall primary elections could come in early May, with a general election four weeks later.