WAUKESHA, Wisc. — The cheers were almost deafening at the Expo Center, Gov. Scott Walker’s headquarters, Tuesday night at 9:55 p.m. local time as CNN projected that the Republican governor had won Wisconsin???s nationally watched recall election. Although several polls over the past week had shown Walker — a target of unions and Democrats nationwide for his controversial reforms of benefits for some public employees — running ahead of Democratic opponent Tom Barrett among likely voters, there was collective joy and relief that, by an unexpectedly large margin of 56 to 44 percent, Walker???s ordeal by fire was finally over.
Walker???s fellow Republican, Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, also survived the recall against her, holding onto 57 percent of the vote against Firefighters Union leader Mahlon Mitchell. However, results in four Republican-held state senate seats on the ballot remained uncertain and a Democratic victory in either could end the GOP???s control of the now-evenly divided state senate.
Most GOP activists and state political pundits who spoke to Human Events credited Walker???s political team with energizing party activists throughout the Badger State and turning out his likely backers. In addition, national Republicans led by Republican National Committee Chairman (and Walker???s fellow Wisconsinite) Reince Priebus, weighed in for the embattled governor. All four Republican presidential candidates voiced solidarity with Walker when they stumped in the state???s presidential primary earlier this year, and GOP Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Nikki Haley of South Carolina stumped for Walker in the special election.
Along with organizational acumen, ???Team Walker??? was credited with an effective fund-raising drive that brought in more than $30 million to the embattled conservative???s coffers — or, as veteran Wisconsin GOP consultant Scott Becher put it, ???more money than any other candidate for anything in the U.S. except Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in the first quarter of the year.???
The Walker warchest was more than enough to trump the estimated $20 million that no less than 15 different committees spent to defeat him with the help of national labor unions, leftist bankroller George Soros and former President Bill Clinton, who stumped for Barrett in the closing days of the race.
Perhaps sensing defeat, national Democrats aside from Clinton distanced themselves from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz told reporters on May 25 ???there aren???t going to be any repercussions nationally??? if Walker wins and, five days later, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney seconded her opinion. President Obama did nothing for Barrett until the day before the voting, when he sent out a one-sentence endorsement of him on Twitter.
Scott Walker, SuperStar
Among relieved supporters of Walker, the talk Tuesday night was less about what brought him to this point than about where the 43-year-old governor was headed.
???When you emerge on top of what Scott Walker has gone through these past few months, you know you???re on top!??? Becher told Human Events. ???The Republican Party has a new superstar and they should take advantage of his stardom.??? Becher has long advocated that the Badger State governor be the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention this summer.
But Walker???s triumph may yield other benefits for the GOP in Wisconsin and the conservative movement overall. Although Barack Obama carried the state???s 10 electoral votes in 2008 and leads Mitt Romney in most statewide polls, Republicans are now expected to make a major effort to put Wisconsin in the Romney column in November. With the number of reliable campaign volunteers clearly enhanced and motivated by the Walker effort, the Romney camp’s chances of wining the state are enhanced.
As Steve Walters, senior producer of the Wisconsin Eye public television program, told Human Events: ???I can???t believe Romney won???t make Wisconsin a priority after tonight.???
Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas, whose county had a turnout of more than 70 percent and supported Walker handily, agreed, predicting ???Romney will be here next week. The state went from being leaning blue to leaning red overnight. Gov. Walker put fire in the belly of a lot of people.???
Among Republican activists we spoke to, there was also a fresh confidence in the ability of any of their four candidates this fall to pick up the open Senate this November.
Possibly the most poignant post-mortem on the contest Tuesday came from Ellen Foley, former editor of the Wisconsin State Journal and now a private communications consultant in Madison. Reviewing the events in her state that have so captivated the national media, Foley said that the recall ???gave us an opportunity to air a lot of issues. The salutary effect of all of this is that we???re more informed about what is happening and as voters, we will review issues more. But please???no more recalls. After all of this, we need a rest.???