The recall race for governor was viewed as crucial nationally, with both sides seeing it as a test of whether politicians could take on unions and survive. Last year, GOP Ohio Gov. John Kasich approved a law curtailing collective bargaining that went further than Wisconsin's, but voters there overturned it in a November referendum.
While that vote weakened Kasich, Walker developed into a national star among conservatives for his tough stance with unions.
"Wisconsin has given their stamp of approval to Gov. Walker's successful reforms that balanced the budget, put people back to work and put government back on the side of the people," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement.
In an interview, he said Democrats would be in disarray, in part because President Barack Obama didn't campaign in Wisconsin on behalf of Barrett.
"I think the Democrats are going to have a circular firing squad on their hands for about three weeks," he said. "Obama is going to show up in a month or two and say, 'Hey guys, remember me, you need to help me get re-elected.' I think a lot of Democrats around here are very disappointed in this president. They're going to look back at him, 'Thanks a lot, pal, we appreciate the help.'""
Rep. Robin Vos, a Republican widely expected to be the next speaker of the Assembly, said the majority in Wisconsin "was silent until today."
"And the results can be called nothing less than deafening," Vos said.
Mike Tate, chairman of the state Democratic Party, had a different take.
"This was a fight that was worth having," he told Madison-based WISC-TV. "There are some fights that are worth losing over."
At Barrett's party, Tate noted that Walker outspent the Milwaukee mayor by millions of dollars. He said the state would still support Obama in November.
"Wisconsin is not now a red state," he said. "It's a mistake to call it a red state and it will not be that in November. It's a purple state."
"The results of tonight's election show that Wisconsin remains a state divided," said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, a Democrat, in a statement. "On both sides, I believe the people are ready to end the polarization of the past 17 months." Walker argued during the campaign that his changes on collective bargaining and requirement that public workers pay more for benefits were crucial to balancing the state's budget. He said the economy was starting to turn around on his watch and that he could still meet a 2010 pledge to create 250,000 private-sector jobs during his first term.
Monthly employment surveys said Wisconsin lost nearly 34,000 jobs last year, but Walker's administration in May released figures from a quarterly census that said the state had actually gained 23,600 jobs in 2011.
Normally, those figures would not be made public until late June - three weeks after the recall election - but the administration said it was releasing them early because people deserved to know the actual condition of the economy. Once vetted, the census figures are considered by economists to be more reliable than the monthly ones.
Barrett blasted the early release of the information, saying Walker was setting a new precedent 20 days before an election by publicizing numbers that the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics had not publicly signed off on. He noted that even using Walker's comparatively rosy numbers, Wisconsin performed the worst of Midwestern states.
Even with the win, Walker will continue to face challenges. Three of his aides from when he was Milwaukee County executive have been charged, as has an appointee and major donor. The secret John Doe investigation, led by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, continues. Walker has put $160,000 into a legal-defense fund but has said he does not believe he is a target of the probe.
Barrett tried to use the investigation as a campaign issue, raising it in daily news conference and campaign stops and blanketing the airwaves with ads about it. But the probe didn't give him enough votes to oust Walker.
Democrats had urged candidates with a better track record in statewide races - such as U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl or former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold - would get in the race, but they declined to do so.
Public-sector labor leaders tried to keep Barrett out of the race and spent about $4 million in an effort to help former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk beat him in the Democratic primary. After Barrett won, the unions turned their attention to helping him with ads and get-out-the-vote efforts.
Barrett had said he would have called a special legislative session to restore collective bargaining, but that would have proved difficult because of the large Republican majority in the state Assembly. With Walker remaining as governor, efforts to pass pro-labor legislation will be virtually impossible.
The campaign was by far the most expensive in the state's history. Walker raised more than $30 million since January 2011, with the majority of it coming from out of state. That was more than seven times as much as the $3.9 million Barrett raised since joining the race March 30. Walker was able to raise so much because of his national profile and a provision of state law that lifts the normal donation limits for certain expenses during recalls.
Two donors gave him $500,000, and more than a dozen others gave him $100,000 or more. Barrett had to abide by the normal limits.
Holding the election itself was expected to cost taxpayers up to $9 million. The May primary was estimated to cost the same amount, for a total of up to $18 million.
Tuesday's election marked the second round of recalls in Wisconsin in less than a year. Last summer, nine state senators - six Republicans and three Democrats - faced recall elections, and Democrats gained two seats in those contests. That put them just shy of running the Senate.
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