MILWAUKEE (MCT) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker became the first governor in the country’s history on Tuesday to survive a recall election.
NBC, CNN, Fox News and The Associated Press called the race shortly after 10 p.m. EDT. Exit polls for a time had shown the race at 50-50, but later showed Walker with a 4 percentage point lead.
The Republican governor held onto his seat in a rematch with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, whom Walker beat by nearly 6 percentage points in 2010. Turnout Tuesday was far higher than it had been 19 months earlier.
“It’s way too early to call it,” said Phil Walzak, a spokesman for Barrett.
“People are still in line voting and 80 percent of the vote hasn’t been counted,” he said. “There are still a lot of votes to count.”
Throughout this spring’s brief campaign, polls showed a tight race with Walker leading, but Democrats said they felt confident they could beat the governor because of voter anger over his policies.
Plans to recall Walker started shortly after he introduced his plan last year to all but eliminate collective bargaining for public workers. The plan prompted tens of thousands of protesters to occupy the Capitol and Senate Democrats to leave the state for three weeks in an effort to block the bill, but Walker’s fellow Republicans managed to send the measure to him for his signature in March 2011.
Walker’s opponents weren’t able to start the recall process until he had been in office for a year, and they began gathering signatures in November. State election officials determined more than 900,000 of those signatures were valid, nearly twice as many as needed.
Now that Walker has survived the recall, he cannot face another one for the remainder of his term, which runs until January 2015.
Also on the recall ballot were Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four state Senate seats. Kleefisch defeated her Democratic opponent, Madison firefighter and union president Mahlon Mitchell, in the nation’s first-ever recall election of a lieutenant governor.
The incumbent Republicans were leading in all four Senate races. In one sense, Walker defeated not just Barrett, but history. Only two other governors in the United States have ever faced a recall election — California’s Gray Davis in 2003 and North Dakota’s Lynn Frazier in 1921 — and both lost.
The recall race for governor was viewed as crucial nationally, with both sides seeing it as a test of whether politicians could take on unions and survive. Last year, GOP Ohio Gov. John Kasich approved a law curtailing collective bargaining that went further than Wisconsin’s, but voters there overturned it in a November referendum.
While that vote weakened Kasich, Walker developed into a national star among conservatives for his tough stance with unions.
“Wisconsin has given their stamp of approval to Governor Walker’s successful reforms that balanced the budget, put people back to work and put government back on the side of the people,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement.
But state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, told Barrett’s supporters at the downtown Hilton that Barrett was still in the race because many votes had not yet been counted.
“Let’s include the city of Milwaukee,” he shouted. “Let’s include Racine. It’s going to be a long night. Stay with us.”
Walker argued during the campaign that his changes on collective bargaining and his requirement that public workers pay more for benefits were crucial to balancing the state’s budget. He said the economy was starting to turn around on his watch and that he could still meet a 2010 pledge to create 250,000 private-sector jobs during his first term.
Monthly employment surveys said Wisconsin lost nearly 34,000 jobs last year, but Walker’s administration in May released figures from a quarterly census that said the state had actually gained 23,600 jobs in 2011.
Normally, those figures would not be made public until late June — three weeks after the recall election — but the administration said it was releasing them early because people deserved to know the actual condition of the economy. Once vetted, the census figures are considered by economists to be more reliable than the monthly ones.
©2012 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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