Retired firefighter Jim Cerro, second from right, of Madison, cheers the effort to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. (Andy Manis/AP)

According to a new Marquette Law School poll the governor leads Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a likely candidate, 50 percent to 44 percent. He leads former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, the only declared Democratic candidate, 49 percent to 42 percent margin, former Rep. David Obey 49 percent to 43 percent and state Sen. Tim Cullen 50 percent to 40 percent.

Democrats started targeting Walker last year, when he spearheaded controversial legislation limiting collective bargaining for public employees. Under Wisconsin law, Walker was not eligible for a recall election until January of this year.

Last summer, two Republican state senators were recalled for supporting the Walker legislation but Democrats fell one seat short of taking control of the state Senate. Four more state senators are being targeted in recalls this year along with Walker, as is Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (R).

Looking at these numbers it’s clear that while Walker has the advantage, this race will still be very competitive.

A November Wisconsin Public Radio survey found that 58 percent of voters supported a recall of the governor — although that is a very different thing than a head-to-head matchup between Walker and a specific Democratic candidate.

Recall advocates dismissed the latest poll; Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zilenski called it “not credible.”

Ciara Matthews, communications director for Walker’s campaign, had a different take. “We are confident that because the positive effects of [Walker’s] reforms continue to create more jobs and keep more money in the pockets of taxpayers, voters will reaffirm the decision they made a year ago,” she said.

While the Democratic race has yet to really heat up, Walker has already been aggressively raising money.

A quirk in the state election law means donors can contribute unlimited sums to a recall target until petition signatures are verified, and Walker has raised $4.5 million in just five weeks. A million of that total came from just four people. Sixty-one percent of Walker’s contributions came from out of state.

But Walker has also been spending money — more money than he raised. In the same five weeks, the governor spent $4.9 million, a large chunk of it on TV and radio ads and direct mail solicitations. The unlimited funds must be spent before the recall is official (unless used for legal challenges).

“After lying his way into office, Scott Walker has spent unprecedented sums to paper over his extremist agenda — including even more that his party’s presidential candidates these last 5 weeks,” said Kelly Steele, a spokesman for the recall coalition We Are Wisconsin.

Regardless of the reasoning, Walker’s spending speaks to the fact that a) he knows the challenge a recall will pose to him and b) he will be no easy victory for Democrats.

Officials are currently reviewing the recall petitions Democrats filed two weeks ago. Over a million signatures were submitted though only 540,208 were required — a sign of how fired up organizers are about this election and a substantial buffer against legal challenges.

Given the huge pile of papers, officials say verification could take up to three months. Assuming enough signatures pass muster, the election will take place sometime between April and June.