GOP victory a major blow to both Democrats and unions.
Walker defeated Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D), according to projections by the news networks and the Associated Press based on early results and exit polling. Walker had 58 percent of the vote to Barrett's 41, with 48 percent of precincts reporting.
The result is a huge letdown for organized labor, which made the race a top priority since Walker successfully pushed for an end to collective bargaining for state employees early last year.
Total spending on the race exceeded $65 million, and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s Mike McCabe said once all the numbers are totaled that figure could exceed $75 million, doubling the maximum ever spent on any political campaign in the state.
That number was buttressed by a loophole in Wisconsin law that allowed Walker to raise unlimited donations from individuals for months, while Barrett had hard caps on his donations and could only begin fundraising two months ago when the recall became official. That allowed Walker to raise nearly $30 million and outspend Barrett by a nearly ten to one margin. Walker and his allies more than doubled the amount Barrett and his backers spent on the race.
The win increases Walker’s already-potent star power within the GOP. Some Republicans have floated his name as a possible presidential candidate in 2016, and Wisconsin Republicans have flocked to tie themselves to Walker ahead of the recall.
Walker’s win may lead to renewed tensions between President Obama and organized labor, who have had, at times, a contentious relationship. Obama stayed largely quiet on the recall and did not campaign in Wisconsin for Barrett despite being in neighboring Minnesota and Illinois in the last week, and his only comment on the race was a tweet sent Monday night.
Obama’s Wisconsin field operation did work with Barrett’s backers to turn out voters, the Democratic Governors Association spent heavily on the race. The Democratic National Committee spent $1.4 million there and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) stumped with Barrett last week, but a number of Walker foes criticized Obama’s lack of effort on the race.
Gerry McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) told The Hill last week that Obama and the national Democratic Party “could and should have done more” to help.
The GOP has grown increasingly bullish about their presidential election prospects in Wisconsin in recent weeks. The Republican National Committee sent out a background piece Tuesday afternoon detailing how President George W. Bush to came within one percentage point of winning the state in both of his elections and touting their 2010 successes, when they won the governorship, control of both statehouses, a Senate seat and two House seats.
Mitt Romney congratulated Walker on his victory Tuesday night and said the results "will echo beyond the borders of Wisconsin."
"Governor Walker has shown that citizens and taxpayers can fight back – and prevail – against the runaway government costs imposed by labor bosses. Tonight voters said ‘no’ to the tired, liberal ideas of yesterday, and ‘yes’ to fiscal responsibility and a new direction. I look forward to working with Governor Walker to help build a better, brighter future for all Americans," he said in a statement.
Democrats have similarly shifted their views on Wisconsin. After having the state in the “solid Democratic” category on his on Electoral College map for months Obama campaign manager Jim Messina moved Wisconsin into the “toss-up” category for the first time on Monday. He made the move in a campaign video that sought to assure supporters they would prevail in the fall.
Obama’s campaign downplayed the change, and some of the same polls that showed Walker with an edge heading into the recall had Obama leading Romney.
“The last public polling had President Obama up 8 [points] in Wisconsin, but we have always anticipated a close race and don’t take anything for granted,” a Obama campaign official told The Hill Monday evening.
Because of Walker’s built-in financial advantages some Democratic strategists had counseled early on against the recall. But Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) told The Hill last week that the recall drive was going to happen whether or not Democratic insiders wanted it to.
“The recall was going to happen no matter what because of the very organic nature of it,” Kind said before adding he’d supported it from the start. “There's no way anyone could have stepped in and stopped the petitions from going out or the signatures from being collected. Clearly there was going to be a recall election regardless of whether any party folks had to say about it.”
--This story was posted at 9:58 p.m. and has since been updated.