Although the 2010 gubernatorial race is still more than a year away, a recent poll released by the Maclver Institute gives Gov. Jim Doyle only a slim lead against two possible Republican challengers.

Neither Doyle nor his possible Republican challengers, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and former Congressman Mark Neumann, have officially declared their candidacy, according to Doyle spokesperson Lee Sensenbrenner and Republican Party of Wisconsin spokesperson Kirsten Kukowski. Both Doyle and Walker have started raising funds in anticipation for possible campaign runs.

If the race were to pit Doyle against Walker, 50 percent of respondents said they would likely support Doyle, while 43 percent would support Walker. Seven percent of respondents said they were undecided between the two candidates.

The results are almost identical in a race featuring Doyle and Neumann, with 49 percent of respondents saying they would vote for Doyle, and 42 percent saying they would back Neumann.

“The value of polling this far out is showing how well an incumbent is doing, but not a very good indicator if how the challenger will do,” said Charles Franklin, University of Wisconsin political science professor and creator of the website Pollster.com.

Franklin added that although Doyle came out on top of the poll, the numbers do not spell good news for him.

“Scott Walker is reasonably well-known around Milwaukee County, but not statewide,” Franklin said. “So, the fact that he could be as high as 42 percent is good news for Republicans and Walker …(who are) within striking distance. With Neumann, it’s sort of the same good news.”

Kukowski echoed his remarks, adding in an e-mail to The Badger Herald, “The fact that Governor Doyle has a single digit lead barely outside the margin of error over two candidates that haven’t declared yet shows Doyle’s vulnerability nearly two years out from an election.”

Overall, the poll reported a 52 percent approval rating among likely voters, but only 15 percent of the respondents said they “strongly” approved of the governor’s performance.

Doyle’s strongest support is in northern and western Wisconsin, where he has a 58 percent approval rating. The governor’s weakest area is in Walker’s home region of southeastern Wisconsin, where he has an approval rating of 45 percent.

The poll was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies on Feb. 25 and 26 and included 500 likely voters statewide. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.38 percent.