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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Wins Recall Election

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Wins Recall Election

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - June 6, 2012


WAUKESHA, Wis. -- Sixty million dollars in campaign spending and 15 months of protests later, Wisconsin voters decided Tuesday that Republican Gov. Scott Walker should keep his job after all. With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, he held a seven-point lead over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, 53 percent to 46 percent.

The victory was the culmination of a heated recall election that began in the corridors of the state capitol and then transformed into a national test of the conservative grassroots and the power of organized labor. Walker's win deals a blow to the latter and energizes the former.

“Wow,” Walker said when he took the stage here at the Waukesha County Exposition Center around 10:30 local time. “Tonight we tell Wisconsin, we tell our country, and we tell people all across the globe that voters really want us to stand up and make the tough decisions. Now it is time to move on, and move forward in Wisconsin.”

In his concession speech, Barrett told his supporters “to please, please, please remain engaged; remain involved. . . There are more chapters to come. And in those chapters, it is my sincere hope that all of us here will remain engaged.” 

With turnout in this special election nearing presidential levels, observers will be reading the tea leaves for clues to the Obama-Romney contest this fall, especially if Republicans can replicate the turnout operation they produced here. 

On the local level, this race was all about Walker, a first-term governor who curtailed collective bargaining rights for public workers in order to balance the budget. The reforms, which even many of his supporters say were pushed through the legislature abruptly, triggered weeks of protests and ultimately led to the recall -- the third of its kind in the nation’s history.

In his victory speech, Walker addressed the complaint that he pushed the reforms too quickly. “Early in 2011, I rushed in to try and fix things, before I talked about it,” he said, noting he was tired of politicians “who talked about things but never fixed them. Looking ahead, we know it’s important to do both. . . . We’re both going to be committed to talking together about how to solve problems.”

During the campaign, and much to national Democrats’ chagrin, the race flowed beyond the Badger State’s borders. Republicans saw Walker as something of a poster boy for cutting budgets and taking on unions, a constituency that traditionally favors the Democrats. A win for Walker, they thought, might embolden his colleagues. And that was a top concern among many Barrett supporters as they went to the polls Tuesday. “A lot of Republicans will feel encouraged,” said Nathaniel Ragatz, a former student, outside his Milwaukee polling place. Ragatz said he voted for John McCain in 2008, but protested at the state capitol last year against Walker’s reforms.

“I think it will give other states more momentum to possibly do the same thing,” said Richard Miller-Dillon outside his Milwaukee polling place, where Barrett had cast his vote just a few hours earlier. Miller-Dillon and his wife, Kathleen, a state university employee, voted for Barrett, they said, to express their opposition toward Walker. “I think . . . many other states will see this as a victory for traditional conservatism” if Walker wins, said Kathleen. “It will prove to be a real hard battle here. It will show that the state really has gone more red than blue; that we really lost our working-class roots.”

Popular former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who is currently seeking the Republican nomination for Wisconsin’s open U.S. Senate seat, said Walker’s win is going to “demoralize” Democrats heading into the fall campaign. “The state of Wisconsin isn’t going to be Obama Country anymore,” he said in an interview with RealClearPolitics at the Walker election party.

While the win for Walker by no means guarantees victory for Mitt Romney in November, Republicans activated their ground game here months earlier than they would have in any other general election year, which could boost the GOP challenger in a state that has voted Democratic in every presidential race since 1988 -- though by close margins in 2000 and 2004.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, also a Wisconsinite, was on hand at the Walker rally, and told reporters ahead of the election results that a Walker win would hurt Obama’s chances in the fall. Democrats are “going to look back and say, 'Thanks a lot pal, we appreciate the help.' I don’t think that goes over well in this state.”

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Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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