MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Gov. Scott Walker, fresh from becoming the nation's first governor to survive a recall election, wants to go about mending Wisconsin's political divide in an egalitarian way: over brats and beer.
Walker defeated Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett on Tuesday for the second time in year and a half, turning back a recall effort that began with the collection of more than 900,000 signatures seeking his ouster. It was only the third gubernatorial recall in U.S. history.
Now the rising Republican star is focusing his message on what lies ahead. His term runs through 2014 in a state that is still bitterly divided over his move to end collective bargaining rights for most public employees.
"It's time to put our differences aside and find ways to work together to move Wisconsin forward," Walker said in an interview minutes after his victory. "I think it's important to fix things, but it's also important to make sure we talk about it and involve people in the process."
Walker planned to invite all members of the Legislature to meet as soon as next week over burgers, brats and "maybe a little bit of good Wisconsin beer."
"The first step is just bringing people together and figuring out some way if we can thaw the ice," he said.
Democrats, including Barrett, pledged to work together too. But the wounds are deep following the rancor of the recall, which was spurred by Walker's surprise proposal to go after public employee unions.
"It is up to all of us, their side and our side, to listen. To listen to each other," Barrett said.
State Rep. Peter Barca, Democratic minority leader in the Assembly, said healing Wisconsin won't be easy.
"I hope Gov. Walker understands and stays true to his pledge to build consensus and be more inclusive going forward," Barca said.
With nearly all precincts reporting, Walker had 53 percent of the vote, compared with 46 percent for Barrett. The margin of victory was wider than many expected and slightly better than Walker's 5.8 percentage-point victory over Barrett in the 2010 race. Some 2.5 million voters cast their ballots.
Democrats and organized labor spent millions to remove Walker, but found themselves hopelessly outspent by Republicans from across the country who donated record-setting sums to the governor's campaign.
Walker's win sets the stage for what is expected to be a hard-fought presidential battle.
Both sides in the presidential contest warned against reading too much into Tuesday's results, but Walker's solid victory is a warning for President Barack Obama in a state he comfortably carried in 2008 and that Democrats have won in six straight presidential elections. Romney has reason to be optimistic, given Walker's own vigorous ground game, the framework of which he will inherit.
Still, Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate showed no remorse for pursuing the recall, which was pushed by powerful union leaders and citizens with little or no political experience.
"This is a fight worth having," Tate said. "Some things are worth losing over."
Walker entered the national spotlight last year when he unveiled plans to plug a $3.6 billion budget shortfall in part by taking away the union rights of most public workers and requiring them to pay more for their health insurance and pension benefits. It was one of his first moves in office, and it was explosive.
Democrats and labor leaders saw it as a political tactic designed to gut the power of his opposition. State Senate Democrats left Wisconsin for three weeks to avoid a vote on the measure, as tens of thousands of teachers, state workers and others rallied at the Capitol in protest.
But the tea-party-supported fiscal conservative remained steadfast. Walker believed his plan would help him control the state budget, and his opponents could not stop Republicans who control the state Legislature from approving his plans.
Walker went on to sign into law several other measures that fueled the recall; he repealed a law giving discrimination victims more ways to sue for damages, made deep cuts to public schools and higher education, and required voters to show photo identification at the polls.
Both sides mobilized thousands of people and millions of dollars to influence voters, whom polls showed were more divided than ever. Signs calling for Walker's removal and those supporting the 44-year-old son of a minister dotted the state's landscape all spring at a time normally devoid of political contests.
More than $66 million was spent on the race as of May 21, making it easily the most expensive in Wisconsin history. That money was spent on an all-out barrage of television ads, direct mail, automated calls and other advertising that permeated the state for months.
Also Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and at least three Republicans in state Senate races survived recalls. Unofficial results showed the Democrat ahead in the other Senate race, the outcome of which will determine which party controls the Senate at least through the end of the year.
Walker avoided gloating in his speech and offered his adversaries a fresh start.
"Now it is time to move on and move forward in Wisconsin," Walker said in his speech. "Tomorrow is the day after the election, and tomorrow we are no longer opponents."
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has survived a recall election, defeating the Democratic mayor of Milwaukee to keep the state's top political job.
Walker becomes the first governor in American history to stay in office after a recall challenge.
The Republican governor rose to national prominence last year after taking on public-sector unions shortly after being sworn in. That fight also triggered the recall and set up a rematch with Tom Barrett, who was defeated by Walker in 2010.
Walker argued his policies were necessary to confront the state's budget problems.
The loss is a blow to Democrats and to unions that spent millions to oust Walker.
WASHINGTON – Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus released the following statement congratulating Governor Scott Walker:
“I congratulate Gov. Scott Walker momentous victory in Wisconsin tonight, and I congratulate the people of my home state in defeating the selfish special interests that wanted to take Wisconsin back to the days of Democrats’ failed policies,” said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.
“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.
“After tonight’s results, Democrats and the Obama campaign are surely nervous. As Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said, this election was a ‘dry run’ for the presidential election. But after President Obama actively avoided Wisconsin and Tom Barrett, one of his earliest supporters, it is hard to imagine how he can now come back to Wisconsin and credibly ask for his party’s support in November. The president abandoned his base in this recall, so he shouldn’t be surprised if they return the favor in November.
“Wisconsin Democrats now head into November dispirited and in disarray, while Republicans remain strong and organized, with momentum on our side.”
Boston, MA – Mitt Romney made the following statement on Governor Scott Walker’s victory in the today’s Wisconsin recall election:
“I congratulate Scott Walker on his victory in Wisconsin. Governor Walker has demonstrated over the past year what sound fiscal policies can do to turn an economy around, and I believe that in November voters across the country will demonstrate that they want the same in Washington, D.C. 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. 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.”
Statement by Tommy Thompson on Today's Victory by Scott Walker and Wisconsin Republicans:
[Madison, WI...] Today Wisconsin made a choice...a choice to keep our state moving forward. I extend my appreciation and congratulations to my good friend Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Kleefisch and the recalled state senators on tonight's victory.
We are celebrating a victory for not only Gov. Walker, Lt. Gov. Kleefisch and the state senators who emerged from the attempted recall, but the great state of Wisconsin. Gov. Walker and his colleagues made tough choices that put our state back on the right track, they stood by the choices they made and tonight's election reaffirms the belief in the direction we're heading.
Tonight we defeated out-of-state special interests and a return to out-of-control government spending--delivering a win for balanced budgets, job growth and local schools and governments seeking to maintain control of their own finances.
OFA-Wisconsin statement on tonight’s Governor’s race
"While tonight’s outcome was not what we had hoped for – no one can dispute the strong message sent to Governor Walker. Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites from all walks of life took a stand against the politics of division and against the flood of secret and corporate money spent on behalf of Scott Walker, which amounted to a massive spending gap of more than $31 million to $4 million. It is a testament to all of those individuals who talked to their friends, neighbors, and colleagues about the stakes in this election of how close this contest was. The power of Wisconsin’s progressive, grassroots tradition was clearly on display throughout the run up to this election and we will continue to work together to ensure a brighter future for Wisconsin’s middle class. This vision was shared by the voters tonight, as exit polling showed President Obama beating Mitt Romney 52-43, a 9-point difference. On the questions of who would do a better job on the economy and who would help the middle class the most, President Obama again held a strong advantage over Romney. These data points clearly demonstrate a very steep pathway for Mitt Romney to recover in the state.”
---- Tripp Wellde, State Director, OFA-Wisconsin