By Rory Carroll
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker survives bitterly fought recall election
Union activists had waged 18-month campaign against the governor whose victory has Republicans rejoicing nationwide
Wisconsin‘s governor Scott Walker survived a bitterly fought recall election on Tuesday after Republican voters mobilised in huge numbers, propelling him to a victory that will boost Mitt Romney’s run for the White House.
Television networks called it for the incumbent at 11pm local time after early returns from rural counties gave him an apparently unassailable lead even as voters were still queuing to cast ballots at polling stations in Milwaukee, a Democratic stronghold.
It was a devastating defeat for Democrats and union activists who had waged an 18-month campaign to oust Walker over his restrictions on collective bargaining and cutbacks of pension and health benefits of public sector workers.
Romney issued a swift statement saying the result would “echo beyond the borders of Wisconsin” by showing Republicans could stand up to “runaway government costs imposed by labor bosses” and demonstrated “what sound fiscal policies can do to turn an economy around”.
With almost two thirds of precincts reporting, Walker led by 57% to 42% against his challenger, Tom Barrett, according to early returns tabulated by AP. Barrett said he had telephoned Walker to concede the race.
The vote was widely seen as a referendum not just on Walker but Tea Party-tinged conservatism. The movement will now claim vindication and try to build on the momentum.
A silver lining for President Barack Obama came in the form of exit polls that gave him a 52-43 lead over Romney, suggesting Wisconsin, a swing state which he won in 2008, would remain loyal come November.
White House strategists anticipated this outcome by distancing Obama from Wisconsin’s toxic battle. He endorsed Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee, but did not campaign in the state for him. The decision dismayed local Democrats but was calculated to not antagonise independent voters who backed Walker. Barrett had lost to Walker in the 2010 gubernatorial race and polls had suggested he would lose again.
Walker, a newly minted superstar of the right, struck a conciliatory tone when addressing euphoric supporters. “Bringing our state together will take some time, but I hope to start right away. It is time to put our differences aside and figure out ways that we can move Wisconsin forward.”
He became the first governor to survive a recall election. The only two others to face the same test – in 1921 and 2003 – lost. He justified the restrictions on unions as necessary to balance the budget, making him a darling of those pushing for fiscal austerity.
“I’m elated. It’s an indication of what’s to come,” said Jake Jacobs, a schoolteacher and author, amid whooping celebrations at Republican campaign headquarters in Appleton. “This united the Tea Party and limited-government conservatives.”
Others there said their victory showed a “silent majority” of voters had grown sick of the union-led occupations and protests which preceded the election. It was triggered after Democrats collected 1m signatures. “We can utilise what we learned here. We utilised social media and technology to grab the hearts of the people of Wisconsin,” said Jacobs.