A historic day in Wisconsin ended with even more history made Tuesday as Republican Gov. Scott Walker is now the only governor in the United States to win re-election after facing a recall.
Garnering 53 percent of the vote over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's 46 percent, Walker will continue in office as the state's governor.
"I want to thank God for his abundant grace," Walker said during his victory speech in Waukesha County.
Walker said it was the supporters who said they were praying for him who helped him get through the past year of turmoil.
"I can't tell you what that means to us," Walker said. "On behalf of our family, we say thank you to all of you. The election is over. It is time to move Wisconsin forward."
Walker supporters rallied at the Waukesha County Expo, where the governor held his victory party.
At the Hilton Hotel in Milwaukee, Barrett gave a speech at a time when he, too, had hoped he would be celebrating.
"I'm honored that you are all here, that you have fought for this Democracy that is so important to each and every one of us," Barrett said, shortly after he said he called Walker to congratulate him on his win.
And though much of the state was painted red, a few areas held strongly to their blue colors: Dane County, for instance, gave Barrett 69 percent of the vote. In Milwaukee County, Barrett took 63 of the vote.
As of early Wednesday, Barrett was also ahead in Portage, Menominee, La Crosse, Iowa, Dane, Columbia, Rock, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ashland, Bayfield and Douglas counties.
”The election is over. It is time to move Wisconsin forward."
But that means 60 counties in Wisconsin voted for Walker. The highest percentage win as of midnight was in Washington County, with a 75 percent vote for Walker; following next in line was Waukesha County with 72 percent and Ozaukee County with 71 percent.
A turnout that could turn heads
The day was historic for many reasons: this is the first recall election ever held in the state, and it earned extremely high voter turnout.
The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board had predicted a 60 to 65 percent turnout — which would top the record-holding 52.4 percent turnout seen in the 1962 gubernatorial election. The predicted turnout would fall short of the 69.2 percent turnout seen in the 2008 presidential election, though.
But, it seems, in many places — records may have been set.
In Muskego, for instance, voter turnout is estimated to be at 86 percent, the same as in Menomonee Falls. In Sturtevant, poll workers believe they hit 77 percent. In Port Washington, voter turnout was 78 percent. In Shorewood, 74 percent. In Greenfield, 71 percent. In Whitefish Bay, 88 percent. Waukesha saw a 78 percent turnout, and 80 percent visited the polls in Mount Pleasant.
Though such a high turnout did not yield results that Democrats across the state were hoping, it doesn't change their strong stance against Walker's tactics.
"The results Tuesday do not stop our firm opposition to the changes sought by Scott Walker," Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said in a statement. "In fact, even as we congratulate Scott Walker and the Republican Party of Wisconsin on winning a hard-fought fight, we look for him to join us in changing the tenor and tone of the debate.
"Regardless of party, Wisconsin must be Wisconsin again, without the big money Tea Party influence that has colonized our state, turned neighbor-against-neighbor and created an idea dangerous to democracy, that our very government is up for sale," Tate added.
Not the first defeat
In November 2010, after incumbent Jim Doyle chose not to run for re-election, Walker defeated Barrett with 52 percent of the vote to become the state’s 45th governor.
Just a few short months later, however, Walker announced how he planned to follow through on his campaign promise to eliminate the state’s deficit — in part by stripping collective bargaining rights for public employees through Act 10 — creating what has become a never-ending political season in Wisconsin. Since February 2011, the state has been as politically divided as it has ever been.
After handily winning the Democratic primary in May, Barrett was set up for a rematch against his 2010 rival, and the result was pretty much the same.
"This is a great victory for Wisconsin families. Wisconsinites made it very clear they want to continue moving our state forward, and that’s why Wisconsinites returned to the polls once again and cast their vote," Republican Party of Wisconsin Chairman Brad Courtney said in a statement. "A liberal minority of activists and out-of-state unions pushed this baseless recall on Wisconsin in order to move us backward; Wisconsin turned out once again and showed they will not have their voices drowned out by this liberal minority, and they were heard loud and clear."
Other races on the ballot
Also on the ballot for lieutenant governor were Republican Rebecca Kleefisch and Democrat Mahlon Mitchell. The results of this race followed closely with statewide party trends: Kleefisch won re-election with 53 percent of the vote, while Mitchell had 47.
Kleefisch took the stage at Walker's victory party at Waukesha County Expo for a short speech after the win was announced.
"Now this is what Democracy looks like," Kleefisch said. "Years from now, people will be saying 'The campaign to save America began tonight in Wisconsin.'"
On the other end of things, Mitchell made it clear that Tuesday's election was no milestone for the Democrats, and that the group would continue to work for the change it believed in.
"The fight did not end today whether we won or loss. ... I'm not done with this fight and I know Mayor Barrett is not done with this fight," Mitchell said. "This is not the last you've heard of Mahlon Mitchell. This is not the last you've heard of Tom Barrett."
So Walker stays ... or does he?
Attack ads, campaign mailings and billboards, political media reports and more have invaded the lives of Wisconsinites for more than a year now, and at least one state resident was certain that the outcome of the election was based more in anger of the recall than on the issues.
David Ryan, of Genesee, was volunteering at Walker's election night party at the Waukesha County Expo Center, and predicted a 10-point victory for the governor.
Ryan said he didn't feel that Walker has any challenges to get over in the election. The key, he said, would be the voter turnout in Milwaukee and Madison — traditionally Democratic areas.
"I think the population is so pissed off that they are having the recall that they are all voting Walker," Ryan said. "I don’t that there is that many people that really need to make up their minds. I think line is pretty much drawn and has been since November last year."
While some may disagree with Ryan's analysis, the tense political atmosphere in Wisconsin has thrust Walker into a national spotlight — and his win tonight is an even bigger deal, according to the Washington Post, which was quick to write a column wondering whether presidential hopefully Mitt Romney would consider Walker a viable candidate for the next vice president, especially considering his strong defeat in Wisconsin.
"Wisconsin and the upper Midwest are crucial to Mr. Romney and, in the wake of Tuesday’s results, Mr. Walker could do more for the ticket than almost anybody else," the article said. "One unknown in the political equation is whether Mr. Romney is enough of a risk-taker to go for someone seen as a hero to the party base but who inspires intense negative passions in the opposition."
— Patch editors Jeff Rumage and Sarah Millard contributed to this article.