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Wisconsin governor unprecedentedly survives recall election

06-06-2012 17:33 BJT

WAUKESHA, United States, June 5 (Xinhua) -- Governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker won the state's gubernatorial recall election Tuesday, securing a mandate on his austerity reforms and energizing the Republican Party for the November election.

Walker, a Republican, maintained his title of governor by beating Democratic challenger Tom Barrett by 7 percentage points. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Walker captured 53 percent of the vote, compared to Barrett's 46 percent.

Also surviving separate Wisconsin recall elections Tuesday were four state senators and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, all Republicans.

The Walker-Barrett election was the third gubernatorial recall election in U.S. history, and the first one in which the sitting governor had not been ousted from office.

Under Wisconsin law, voters have the right to recall an elected official if at least 25 percent of the people who voted in the last election sign petitions voicing their desire for a recall. Wisconsin Democrats collected over 900,000 signatures in January calling for an election, almost twice the required amount.

Wisconsin residents came out in exceptionally high numbers for the Tuesday election, with some polling places even reporting running out of ballots and voter registration forms.

The Wisconsin State Government Accountability Board had previously estimated recall election voter turnout at 60-65 percent, just shy of the 69.2 percent recorded in the 2008 presidential election.

The recall election was an exact rematch of the 2010 gubernatorial contest that likewise pitted Walker against Barrett, where Walker came out on top by around 5 percentage points.

Walker's margin of victory Tuesday was even more pronounced, and therefore seemed to legitimize both Walker's leadership and the controversial policies that had led the recall election to be called in the first place.

Conflicts started shortly after Walker assumed office in early 2011, when the governor instituted a series of fiscal austerity reforms to combat Wisconsin's deficit, which was estimated as high as 3.6 billion U.S. dollars.

As part of these budget austerity measures, Walker instituted deep spending cuts to education and social programs, but also lowered corporate taxes in the hopes of growing business within the state.

But the most controversial by far of Walker's fiscal reforms was his decision to effectively take away the collectively bargaining rights of workers, a move that infuriated unions and labor sympathizers alike.

In response to the collective bargaining issue, tens of thousands of Wisconsin residents assembled outside the state capital in Madison in winter calling for Walker's removal, the beginning of the one-and-a-half year recall process.

Since then, voters from both sides have been knocking on doors, making phone calls and urging their friends and family to get out the vote for their candidate. Even politically apathetic Wisconsinites have been bombarded with TV ads, which were largely tilted in Walker's favor.

The governor enjoyed a tremendous advantage in fundraising, with Walker's campaign raking in a whopping 31 million dollars in donations. Barrett's campaign, in contrast, only took in around 4 million dollars.

However, after months of drama and national publicity, Tuesday night's results finally solidified Walker's policies as legitimate to Wisconsin voters, and the governor will be allowed to finish his term set to end in 2014.

Addressing a jubilant crowd of supporters in Waukesha, Walker spoke of the need for Wisconsin to come together after the year of uncertainty, and to continue on the path in part set out in his reforms.

"Bringing our state together will take some time, but I hope to start right away," said Walker. "It is time to put our differences aside and figure out ways that we can move Wisconsin forward."

The Wisconsin recall was also seen as politically significant to Americans outside the state, as it encompassed much of the national discussion between Democrats and Republicans regarding the austerity-versus-growth debate.

Additionally, the Wisconsin election echoed many of the fundamental differences between the Democratic and Republican parties, with labor unions heavily allied with the former and big business interests with the latter.

For this reason, many political analysts had looked to the Wisconsin recall election as a possible hint of things to come in the November general election.

In a show of the recall's importance for both parties, the Republican and Democratic National Committees each helped organize canvassing trips to Wisconsin to help get out the vote for Walker and Barrett respectively.

Moreover, while President Barack Obama and his GOP rival Mitt Romney themselves refrained from campaigning with their Wisconsin candidates, surrogates for their campaigns each made appearances in Wisconsin to support the recall effort.

Former President Bill Clinton appeared at Barrett's side last Friday for an event in Milwaukee, while Virginia Governor and possible vice presidential candidate Bob McDonnell campaigned for Walker the week before.

Despite Obama's attempts to relatively distance himself from the Wisconsin recall, Walker's huge victory is still likely to be seen as an embarrassment for the Democrats, as it raises some alarm if a similar Republican outcome could happen in November.

Meanwhile, the Romney campaign and GOP congressional leaders celebrated the defeated recall and claimed the vote as evidence of both public support for the Republican agenda and a guide to the November election.

"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.," the Romney campaign said in a statement issued shortly after the election results.

Walker's win will undoubtedly energize Republicans in their upcoming battle for the White House, while Wisconsin voter data will simultaneously be scrutinized by Democrats hoping to right errors before the Obama-Romney matchup this fall.

While Obama won Wisconsin by 14 percentage points in the 2008 election, his campaign conceded last week that this year's contest will be closer.

However, no Republican candidate has carried Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan in 1984, and according to Tuesday's exit polls, Wisconsin voters still favor Obama to Romney by 51 percent to 45 percent.

Editor:Wang Xiaomei |Source: Xinhua

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