Gov. Scott Walker became the first governor in the country's history on Tuesday to survive a recall election, besting his 2010 rival in a contest that broke spending records and captured the nation's attention.
"Tonight we tell Wisconsin, we tell our country, and we tell people all across the globe that voters really do want leaders that stand up and make the tough decisions," Walker told an overflow crowd at the Waukesha County Exposition Center.
He said he would meet with his cabinet Wednesday to focus on the economy, and said he hoped to soon bring Democrat and Republican lawmakers together to meet over brats, burgers and beer. He cut off the crowd when they booed a mention of Barrett.
"Tomorrow is the day after the election and tomorrow we are no longer opponents," he said. "We are one as Wisconsinites."
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett called the Republican governor to concede around 10 p.m., about an hour after The Associated Press and television networks called the race for Walker.
Barrett told his backers at the Hilton in downtown Milwaukee: "Never ever stop doing what you think is right. That's what makes this such a great country.
"Please, please, please remain engaged, remain involved, because we will continue to fight for justice and fairness in this city and state."
The race was a rematch of the 2010 race, when Walker beat Barrett by nearly 6 percentage points. Turnout Tuesday was far higher than it had been 19 months earlier.
Throughout this spring's brief campaign, polls showed a tight race with Walker leading, but Democrats said they felt confident they could beat the governor because of voter anger over his policies.
Plans to recall Walker started shortly after he introduced his plan last year to all but eliminate collective bargaining for public workers. The plan prompted tens of thousands of protesters to occupy the Capitol and Senate Democrats to leave the state for three weeks in an effort to block the bill, but Walker's fellow Republicans managed to send the measure to him for his signature in March 2011.
In a reminder of last year's demonstrations, more than 1,000 people gathered on the Capitol lawn Tuesday as results came in.
Walker's opponents weren't able to start the recall process until he had been in office for a year, and they began gathering signatures in November. State election officials determined more than 900,000 of those signatures were valid, nearly twice as many as needed.
Now that Walker has survived the recall, he cannot face another one for the remainder of his term, which runs until January 2015.
Also on the recall ballot were Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four state Senate seats. Kleefisch defeated her Democratic opponent, Madison firefighter and union president Mahlon Mitchell, in the nation's first-ever recall election of a lieutenant governor.
Three of the Senate races were called for incumbent Republicans, but definitive results weren't available for the Racine County race.
"Now this is what democracy looks like!" Kleefisch told supporters at the party she held jointly with Walker, using a phrase that became an anthem for Democrats during last year's protests.
In one sense, Walker defeated not just Barrett, but history. Only two
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