MILWAUKEE — Scott Walker survived historic outrage in this state to become the first governor in the nation’s history to survive a recall election. Bursting turnout by unionized workers angry over the loss of collective bargaining rights under Walker and by urban residents who felt abandoned by Walker’s funding priorities, was in the end was smothered by support for Walker from suburbs, small towns, and rural areas.
Walker virtually swept the state outside of Milwaukee and the Madison area. In his victory speech in Waukesha, where he was beating Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett 72 percent to 27 percent, with nearly all the votes in, Walker said it was time to put differences aside and “figure out the ways that we can move Wisconsin forward.”
But the result and the electoral landscape left a Wisconsin perhaps even more divided than when teachers, laborers, and students staged sit-ins at the state capitol rotunda in February of 2011. The reality was that the vast majority of voters outside the cities approved of Walker’s policies, believing the state’s unions were out of control and that urban woes, such as depicted by Walker, the former Milwaukee county executive, also drained state coffers.
Barrett declared defeat as Walker was winning 54 percent to 45 percent with 85 percent of the state’s vote in. He urged supporters to “remain energized, remain engaged” as the state will be a battleground in the November presidential election. They will have to: without a doubt, Walker’s victory demonstrated a level of support — aided by tens of millions of dollars from outside the state — that actually grew instead of dissipating in the face of the recall.
The support grew so much that perhaps the happiest man in America, besides Walker, is Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Nearly all the scenarios for President Obama winning reelection have Wisconsin as a must-win state for him. With Walker winning on the strength of his attacks on organized labor and by also embracing other initiatives of the far right such as restricting voting rights, the Republican Party is already declaring fresh opportunity in Wisconsin. Walker says he wants to bring Wisconsin back together and move it forward. But the Republican presidential campaign is sure to keep focusing on the differences Walker exploited, moving the country backward.