By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Democrats often point to mounting evidence that they are more enthusiastic about the coming November election than Republicans, but a new poll shows strong competition in the current governor’s and Senate races and growing excitement among Republicans.
For the first time in a Marquette University Law School poll released this year, Republicans’ enthusiasm topped Democrats’ — 69 percent to 67 percent. That was within the margin of error, but it’s a big change from March, when Democrats held a 10-point enthusiasm advantage.
The findings come a week after about 94,000 more Democrats than Republicans voted in Wisconsin’s primary election; the number of Democrats who cast ballots in favor Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s opponent was 20 percent greater than the number of Republicans who voted in their party’s primary to decide who would take on Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat.
Walker had been warning his supporters he expected to be down in the poll released on Wednesday. But the survey showed him dead even with the Democrat Tony Evers, breaking with other recent polls that have shown Evers slightly ahead.
The Marquette poll also showed Baldwin about even with Republican state Sen. Leah Vukmir. The poll of 601 likely voters was conducted from Aug. 15, the day after the primary, through Sunday.
Vukmir pounced on the news. Her campaign manager, Jess Ward, said Baldwin was “in the fight of her life.”
Baldwin’s spokesman, Bill Neidhart, said the close results arise from the $11 million that has already been spent against Baldwin during the Republican primary by candidates and outside groups.
Democrats have already picked up two special legislative seats in GOP districts this year and a liberal-backed candidate prevailed in an officially nonpartisan race for Wisconsin Supreme Court in April. Knocking off Walker and re-electing Baldwin are top priorities for Democrats.
The poll did survey more Republicans than Democrats, a fact that critics on the left were quick to draw attention to. The sample was 45 percent Republican and 43 percent Democratic. That differed quite a bit from the past 46 statewide Marquette polls, in which the comparable figures were 43 percent for Republicans and 47 percent for Democrats.
“If you poll Scott Walker supporters, Scott Walker will do OK,” said the liberal activist Scot Ross, head of the group One Wisconsin Now, in a statement.
Walker, speaking at a news conference, refused to take any questions not related to recent flooding in the Madison area.
Walker’s approval rating in Marquette poll was at 49 percent, up from 47 percent in July. In another good sign for Walker, the poll showed that a majority of the respondents believe the state is on the right track — 53 percent to 41 percent. That was unchanged from July.
But there were some troubling signs for the governor.
The poll showed that 44 percent of the respondents believe Wisconsin schools are in worse shape now than a few years ago, and only 15 percent thought they were better. Forty-four percent thought the quality was about the same.
Schooling has been a central topic of debate in the race. Walker has argued he is an “education governor.” Evers, Wisconsin school chief since 2009, asserts that Walker has failed schools.
In another bad sign for Walker, the poll found that 35 percent of the respondents believe he had not done enough to deal with troubles at the state’s Lincoln Hills juvenile prison. Twelve percent said he had done enough, and 49 percent hadn’t heard enough to form an opinion.
The Marquette poll showed that both Walker and Evers were tied with 46 percent of likely voters saying they would vote for one or the other of them. Baldwin had the support of 49 percent of likely voters and Vukmir had the support of 47 percent. That is well within the poll’s 4.5 percentage-point margin of error.