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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday beat back a challenge from Democrats who had hoped to oust the Republican from office more than a year after he angered unions and their like-minded allies by cutting collective-bargaining rights for most public workers.
NBC News called the race for Walker shortly before 10 p.m. ET, roughly an hour after the polls closed in the Badger State. CNN's early exit polls showed Walker in a dead heat with Democratic challenger Tom Barrett, prompting speculation of a long night (and possible upset) that never materialized.
The Republican governor entered the night ahead in every recent major poll. And, as Politico's David Catanese explains, Walker appeared to have the wind at his back coming down the home stretch thanks to "a gaping financial advantage, unwavering support from national Republicans, a brief fissure between organized labor and traditional Democrats and economic statistics that appear[ed] to bolster the incumbent’s case that the state is on the rebound."
Barrett had his own high-profile support from leading Democrats and major super PACs that hoped to use the recall election to send a message to other conservative governors who may consider clamping down on collective-bargaining rights. The Milwaukee mayor, however, had to do without the biggest bold-faced Democratic name of all: President Obama, who opted against traveling to Wisconsin to appear with Barrett on the campaign trail. The president's biggest show of public support came late Monday, in the form of a tweet. "I’m standing by Tom Barrett," the president said. "He'd make an outstanding governor."
Wisconsin is viewed as a swing state in this November's general election, and both parties treated the recall effort as something of a dry run for their presidential ground games in the state. Still, as Slate's Will Oremus has already detailed, there are plenty of differences between a state-level recall effort and a presidential election, despite what the talking heads may tell you. (FWIW: President Obama held a comfortable 54-42 lead over Mitt Romney in CNN's exit poll.)
Fox News projected that Walker's lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, also had survived her own recall election. Four GOP state senators also faced recalls, although the outcomes of those races remained uncalled late Tuesday. Democrats would need only one win in those legislative races to gain control of the state's upper chamber, which is currently evenly split. But, as the Washington Post points out, any potential victory could be short-lived given that half of the Senate seats (and all of the state Assembly seats) are up for grabs this November, when candidates will be competing for districts with boundaries newly drawn by the GOP-controlled Assembly.
The state's Government Accountability Board predicted that roughly 60 percent to 65 percent of Wisconsin residents of voting age would cast ballots on Tuesday. If those predictions hold true, it would be higher than the turnout two years ago when Walker was elected governor, but below the 69-percent participation mark of 2008, when Obama easily won the state on his way to the White House.