(The Root) — The dramatic Wisconsin recall election came to an end Tuesday night, as Republican Gov. Scott Walker defeated his Democratic challenger, Tom Barrett. Although Walker's victory was largely expected, with multiple public polls showing him ahead of Barrett — not to mention his campaign vastly outspending Barrett's ($45.6 million for Walker, compared with $17.9 million for Barrett) — Walker's opponents were still hopeful that Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee, could boot him out of office. Despite the grassroots organizing efforts of the labor movement and high turnout across the state, however, Walker survived, becoming the first U.S. governor to stay in office after a recall challenge.
The push to recall Walker was born last February, after the first-term governor released a plan to address shortfalls in the state budget by calling on teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public workers to pay more for health insurance and pension benefits. Controversially, Walker's plan also demanded that public workers relinquish most of their collective bargaining rights to negotiate for their wages and benefits. The proposal was signed into law last March, against the backdrop of thousands of angry protesters occupying Wisconsin's Capitol Building.
Yet Walker also enjoys support in the sharply divided state. His supporters point to his plan's success in confronting the state's budget problems. "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," said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
The night's most watched race has been built up as having national policy implications, striking a blow to unions, which normally have a strong record on voter-turnout operations and which worked hard to organize on the ground against unlimited spending from newly introduced super PACs. And with Wisconsin being a state that President Obama will most likely have to carry in order to win re-election, the race was seen as a proxy for the presidential election. The Obama campaign, however, is no doubt heartened that, despite the state's vote for its Republican governor, Wisconsin exit polling still showed the president ahead of Mitt Romney, 53 to 42 percent.
So what happens now in Wisconsin? Walker remains governor, Barrett remains the mayor of Milwaukee and it's back to the drawing board for labor unions.
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's senior political correspondent.