MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker hoped to win his third election in four years Tuesday after a hard-fought campaign with Democratic businesswoman Mary Burke — a victory that could lead him to set his sights even higher by running for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
The race was too close to call based on unofficial results as of 9 p.m. Polls had the race tied or nearly even for months, until last week, when Walker was shown to be up by 7 points in a respected Marquette University survey. Very few voters were undecided, even as Walker and Burke and their backers flooded the airwaves and spent an estimated $50 million to $60 million on the race.
Walker said his biggest concern was that supporters would “ease up” after last week’s poll showed him ahead and not actually vote.
“I ran track when I was in high school, and we said the bottom line was you have to run through the tape not just to the tape,” he said after voting in Wauwatosa.
Democrats and labor unions targeted Walker for defeat this year after he took on public sector unions shortly after coming into office in 2011. A year later, he became the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election spurred by anger over a law that stripped public unions of much of their power.
That fight made him a hero to conservatives and put him in the mix for a potential 2016 Republican presidential run, even as he’s downplayed that talk during his re-election campaign against Burke.
Walker argued that he deserves a second term because he wiped out a $3.6 billion budget shortfall, took on special interests such as the unions, cut taxes by $2 billion and presided over the addition of more than 110,000 private-sector jobs.
But Burke argued Wisconsin could have done better. Walker promised that Wisconsin would add 250,000 new private-sector jobs during his first term, which he did not come close to fulfilling. Next year’s budget faces a $1.8 billion shortfall, and Burke argued Walker has divided Wisconsin.
She takes an opposite approach to Walker on several major issues. While Walker backs a statewide private school voucher program, Burke wants to end it. She wants to take federal money to expand Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s health overhaul, while Walker rejected it. She is for restoring collective bargaining power to public workers lost under Walker. And Burke also supports raising the minimum wage, which Walker opposes.
Tim Liebau, a 44-year-old software engineer from Madison who works for Accuray, voted for Walker in 2010 and in the 2012 recall, but he also voted for Obama in 2008 but for Republican Mitt Romney in 2012.
In this race, Liebau voted against Walker for the first time, casting his ballot for Burke.
“It was a tossup,” Liebau said outside the Madison public library moments after he voted. Liebau said he voted for Burke because he has a lot of family who are teachers, and he didn’t like how Walker treated them when he took away their collective bargaining powers.
“I do think Walker has divided the state,” Liebau said. “That was my tipping point. We’ve got to become more neutral.”
Doug Szudy, a 70-year-old retired insurance claims agent from Madison, voted for Walker because he liked his tax cuts.
“He keeps taxes in line,” Szudy said. “Everybody else raises taxes.”
Democrats have traditionally done better in presidential election years — no Republican has won the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984 — while the GOP does better in midterms. Just five months after Walker won his recall in June 2012, the state re-elected President Barack Obama by 7 points and chose Democrat Tammy Baldwin over former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson for the U.S. Senate.
Walker has spent nearly his entire adult life in politics, having first been elected in 1993 to a state Assembly seat. Burke’s father started Trek Bicycles in the 1970s, and she worked there two different times as an executive. She was elected to the Madison school board in 2012.
Burke spent $5 million of her own personal wealth on the race, one-third of the $15 million her campaign brought in. Walker has raised $25 million since the middle of 2013, but outside groups spent millions more.
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