MADISON, Wisc. (CN) – Gov. Scott Walker survived a recall election Tuesday, but Democrats appear to have taken control of the state Senate, winning one district by 779 votes – a margin of 0.1 percent, close enough for a recount.
Mitt Romney immediately hailed the results as proof “that citizens and taxpayers can fight back and prevail against the runaway government costs imposed by labor bosses.”
Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch retained her seat in a close race. But if John Lehman’s 779-vote margin holds up in Racine County, Democrats will control the Senate 17-16, until November, when 16 seats will be up for grabs.
Lehman led incumbent state Sen. Van Wanggaard 36,255 to 35,476 with 100 percent of the votes counted, but statements from Van Wanggaard’s campaign made it all but certain that he would demand a recount.
With most votes counted in a record turnout for a special election, Walker led Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett by 7 percentage points with 96 percent of the votes counted.
More than 2.2 million went to the polls in the most expensive special election in history. Walker outspent Barrett 8 to 1, with much of his money coming from out of state – there are no limits on such contributions under state law for recalls. More than $63 million was spent on the recall campaigns.
In his victory speech to a cheering crowd in Waukesha, a conservative stronghold, Walker thanked his wife and two sons, but “above all, God … for his abundant love.”
Walker said the results showed that voters “truly do want leaders who stand up and make the right decisions.”
He would not allow the crowd to boo Barrett, saying he would work with Barrett to “Move Wisconsin Forward” – his recall campaign slogan.
He acknowledged that he had rushed to change things, saying he wanted to be a doer and not a talker, and should have communicated better, and said he is committed to bringing everyone in the state together, whether they voted for him or not.
In his concession speech, Barrett told supporters: “Now we must look to the future, and our challenges are real. We are a state that has been deeply divided, and it is up to all of us, our side and their side, to listen. To listen to each other and to try to do what is right for everyone in this state. The state remains divided and it is my hope that while we have lively debates, a lively discourse which is healthily in any democracy that those who are victorious tonight as well as those of us who are not victorious tonight can at the end of the day do what is right for Wisconsin families.” Barrett took just 11 of the state’s 72 counties.
Kleefisch captured 53 percent of the vote to keep her spot as lieutenant governor, beating out Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin President Mahlon Mitchell.
Senate GOP Leader Scott Fitzgerald took 58 percent of the vote in his rural District 13 to prevail over Lori Compas.
State Sen. Terry Moulton edged out Kristen Dexter in the Northwoods District 23 with 57 percent of the vote to Dexter’s 43 percent.
And state Sen. Jerry Petrowski topped Donna Seidel in north-central District 29 with 61 percent of the vote.
So months of turmoil in the state have come to an official close, with public sector unions being dealt quite a blow. They lost collective bargaining power, which they had maintained for over 50 years, and failed to get it back. Walker’s union-busting bill has inspired a raft of copycat legislation in state across the country.
After the results were in, Romney said in a statement: “Tonight’s 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.”
The recalls surely gained national attention. But whether the results can be used to forecast the November elections is uncertain. Exit polling of voters showed President Obama ahead of Romney, 51-45.
But Walker, just the third governor recalled in U.S. history, is the first to survive the recall election. Under state law, he cannot be recalled against this term.