Wisconsin Recall: Badger State Still a Battleground

Jessica Taylor June 6, 2012 · 11:58 AM EDT

Republican Gov. Scott Walker fended off the recall effort against him more easily than expected on Tuesday, beating Democrat Tom Barrett yet again -- and by a slightly larger margin than he did in 2010. Walker prevailed 52 percent to 47 percent last cycle compared to 54 percent to 46 percent on Tuesday.

The overhyped election attracted intense interest from both sides in what is arguably the most polarized state in the country, deeply divided after Walker and state Republicans pushed through controversial labor reforms last spring. Tuesday’s turnout was impressive considering irregular timing of the race. Over 2.3 million people voted in the recall election, about 200,000 more than the 2010 midterm election, but less than the almost 3 million that voted in 2008.

It’s true that Republicans significantly outspent Democrats on the race, but Democrats consistently trumpeted their ground game (including President Obama’s operation) as the key to the race.

Republicans anxiously offered the results as evidence that the 2010 GOP wave wasn’t an aberration, but as with any special election, it’s best to use caution before extrapolating results onto other races.

Wisconsin was expected to be a presidential battleground state before the recall and Tuesday’s result confirms that analysis. Democrats have carried Wisconsin in the past six presidential elections, but Obama’s 56 percent was the only time a Democrat received more than 52 percent of the vote. According to exit poll data from Tuesday, Obama still maintains a lead, getting 51 percent of those surveyed to 44 percent for Romney. The president also won over independent voters by an even wider margin, 56 percent to 37 percent, according to the exit poll.

In the end, all eyes may be on the Badger State for a different reason in the fall as it hosts a competitive U.S. Senate race that could decide the majority rather than its impact on the presidential contest. The state still remains bitterly divided, and with Democrats and labor unions disappointed and looking to cast blame for their loss, don’t expect the animosity to dissipate here anytime soon.