03/30/2012 06:27 pm ET Updated Mar 31, 2012

Tom Barrett, Milwaukee Mayor, Jumps Into Scott Walker Recall Race

WASHINGTON -- Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) announced on Friday that he is jumping into the recall race to unseat Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), shaking up the Democratic race and potentially making him the narrow frontrunner in the primary.

"Today, the Government Accountability Board certified a recall election against Scott Walker, and I wanted you to be among the first to know that, after serious deliberation and reflection, I will be a candidate for Governor," he wrote in an email to supporters on Friday afternoon.

Barrett unsuccessfully ran for governor against Walker in 2010.

"This was not a decision I made lightly," Barrett added in his announcement. "I love this state and I care deeply about our future. That's why I ran for governor in 2010 -- even though I knew it was an uphill battle. We ran a strong and energetic campaign fueled by your support and the support of thousands across Wisconsin."

Former Democratic Dane County executive Kathleen Falk had already announced her candidacy to unseat Walker. A recent poll found that Walker leads Barrett 47 to 45 percent. Walker was beating Falk 49 to 45 percent.

Walker's camp was clearly ready for Barrett's announcement, quickly putting up a web video called "Tom the Taxer," criticizing tax increases in Milwaukee.

"Under Mayor Barrett, Milwaukee has seen a dramatic increase in taxes and government spending, coupled with an astonishing loss of jobs. It is because of this dismal record, that Milwaukee has become the 9th poorest big city in the country," said Ciara Matthews, communications director for Walker's campaign. "Tom Barrett's record of failed leadership as mayor of Milwaukee has twice been rejected by Wisconsin voters."

"It is shocking that despite the downward spiral of Milwaukee's economy that Tom Barrett has presided over that he would ask Wisconsinites to not only stop the progress the state has seen in Governor Walker's first year in office, but completely reverse it by electing him as governor," she added.

The recall election is the next step in a campaign to oust Wisconsin state Republicans who pushed controversial budget legislation stripping state employees of their collective bargaining rights. In August 2011, Democrats successfully recalled two Republican state senators from office. The state Senate is now evenly split along party lines, 16-16, since Sen. Pam Galloway (R-Wausau) recently stepped down for personal reasons. The tie will be broken once a successor is elected on June 5.

The gubernatorial primary on the Democratic side will be heated. While Barrett has a slight lead in the polls at this point, Falk has the heavy backing of labor unions, which were the primary force in pushing the opposition to Walker's budget repair bill last year. The Democratic Party in Wisconsin said it will not be taking sides in the primary.

The primary date for the recall is May 8. The general election will be on June 5.