(MILWAUKEE) — Embattled Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker managed to hang onto his job Tuesday when the state’s voters backed the Republican lawmaker in a historic recall election against Democratic challenger Tom Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee. ABC News projects Walker will win the Wisconsin recall election.
Walker’s victory over Barrett — his second in the last two years — signaled a massive victory for Republicans in this battleground state, which opted for President Barack Obama by nearly 15 percent just four years ago. The recall election, with its fierce debate over how to resolve the country’s budget woes, has been viewed as a possible preview of what to expect this fall when Obama battles presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney for the Oval Office.
Despite the perceived ramifications for November, neither Obama nor Romney campaigned in Wisconsin for Walker and Barrett. Instead, high-profile Republican governors Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana stumped for Walker, while former President Bill Clinton appeared at a rally for Barrett last Friday in Milwaukee. On Election Day, Obama sent a blast email to supporters praising the mayor.
“Tom has spent his career fighting for economic security and fairness for middle-class families,” Obama wrote. “He’s been a dedicated congressman and a great mayor, and he would make an outstanding governor for Wisconsin.”
However, the White House repeatedly faced questions about its decision not to help Barrett in the recall battle. On Tuesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that the race could not be seen as a barometer of what is to come this fall, noting Walker’s hefty fundraising advantage: total spending topped $62 million and Walker accounted for almost half of that.
“A race where one side is outspending the other by a ratio of at least eight to one probably won’t tell us about a future race,” Carney said.
Despite Barrett’s defeat, Obama still enjoys an advantage over Romney in the Badger State. According to preliminary exit poll results, Wisconsin voters said they favor Obama over Romney by 53 percent to 47 percent. But some analysts believe the state’s recall race does offer a glimpse of the future.
“Wisconsin is a preview of what the November election is going to look like in many of these swing states,” ABC News political director Amy Walter said, “and that is millions and millions of dollars spent just to try to influence a dwindling percentage of swing voters and the two sides working very hard to make sure that their voters come and turn out.”
Although Walker and Barrett lodged a number of attacks against one another during the brief four-week campaign, at the heart of the recall was a controversial law proposed and ultimately signed by Walker in the winter of 2011, which greatly limited the power of public sector unions in the state — including limiting their collective bargaining rights.
The law sparked a firestorm in Wisconsin (and across the country). Recall elections were held against nine state senators in the summer of 2011, resulting in the ousting of two Republican state senators. One million signatures were collected to recall the controversial governor.
However, other voters at a Milwaukee polling station on Lake Michigan said Walker deserved praise — not scorn — for his bold actions. Walker’s decision to address Wisconsin’s $3.6 billion budget deficit by slashing spending on government workers has helped improve the state’s shortfall. Walker’s office now projects a balance of $154.5 million by the end of the 2013 fiscal year. The state’s unemployment rate dropped from 7.7 percent in January 2011 to 6.7 percent in April 2012.
Only two governors have ever been successfully recalled — Lynn Frazier of North Dakota in 1921 and Gray Davis of California in 2003.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Eric Bradner, CNN
Dan Berman, Phil Mattingly and David Mark, CNN Newswire