MILWAUKEE -- Scott Walker did it. In the historic Wisconsin recall battle, Walker emerged victorious on Tuesday, beating back labor unions and Democrats who tried to kick him out of office.
He remains governor of Wisconsin and will finish his original term.
Multiple TV networks called the race by 9 p.m. Central time, ending the race much earlier than many pundits had anticipated. Walker received 53.2 percent of the vote, while Barrett brought in 46.3 percent.
Walker's victory speech stressed conciliation. When the crowd booed Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D), Walker hushed them.
"No, no, no," he said. "The election is over. I talked to the mayor and we had a good conversation.
"Bringing our state together will take some time, but I hope to start right away," Walker said. "It is time to put our differences aside and figure out ways that we can move Wisconsin forward."
Symbolically, the race became second in importance behind only the 2012 presidential contest. Republicans poured $45.6 million into the election and Democrats spent $17.9 million. The cash disparity was even greater when comparing what the two campaigns raised, without factoring in all the outside cash: Walker had a nearly eight-to-one advantage.
Both sides saw it as an opportunity to fire up their base and show their strength in advance of the presidential contest in November. But more fundamentally, the race was a fight between two starkly opposed ideologies. Walker's view of governing is aggressive, taking on the state's powerful labor unions and eschewing compromise to lower taxes, decrease regulations and make the state friendlier to businesses. On the other side, progressives saw the nature of the state changing under Walker. Where there was once compromise, moderation and a focus on shared sacrifice, there was now only what Walker called "divide and conquer."
Perhaps that's why, even after the networks had called the race, Democrats at the party for Barrett initially were defiant, refusing to admit defeat.
"We are not going to let the media corporations decide this election!" declared Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Mike Tate, noting that voters in Milwaukee still stood in line to vote. (As long as voters were in line by 8 p.m. Central time, they could cast a ballot.)
Indian Lendowski, a steelworker who lives in a suburb of Milwaukee and attended the Barrett party, said the election was "a once-in-a-lifetime event for most of us. We're hoping the right thing happens, and Mr. Barrett wins." When asked whether he believed the networks' projections, he said, "No way. People are still voting."
And when Barrett eventually took the stage and announced that he had phoned Walker and conceded, there were screams of dismay and disappointment from the crowd.
"It is important for us to work together," said Barrett, striking much the same note that Walker did.
It's clear that healing won't happen overnight.
Walker first earned the ire of labor unions and progressives in February 2011, when he pushed through legislation that stripped most collective bargaining rights from public employees. Since then, Democrats have railed against his cuts to education, repeal of an equal pay enforcement law and controversial remarks about his plan to "divide and conquer" unions.
In January, Democrats collected enough signatures to trigger a recall election against the governor. Since then, Walker pulled in millions from his backers all over the U.S. and become a conservative hero. Barrett, meanwhile, had to go through a contentious primary process and never quite caught up in fundraising or enthusiasm from national Democrats, who were slower to throw their weight behind the recall. While former President Bill Clinton stumped for Barrett, Obama never did -- instead offering a last-minute tweet and some grassroots organizing support from his campaign.
Tate, the state Democratic leader, said he wasn't disappointed with the national party's help, saying he was "pleased" with the efforts. He argued that the real reason Walker was so successful was his huge fundraising advantage.
"The fact that Scott Walker spent probably $50-plus million is a fact that simply can't be ignored," Tate told reporters after Barrett's speech. "They've got millionaires and billionaires who can just write checks to buy endless amounts of TV ads, and that makes it problematic for us. This shouldn't have even been a close contest."
Barrett's defeat is a significant disappointment for the labor movement, which put all its muscle into getting out the vote and opposing Walker.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka admitted defeat, but insisted the labor movement had had a positive effect.
"We wanted a different outcome, but Wisconsin forced the governor to answer for his efforts to divide the state and punish hard-working people," Trumka said in a statement Tuesday night. "Their resolve has inspired a nation to follow their lead and stand up for the values of hard work, unity, and decency that we believe in. We hope Scott Walker heard Wisconsin: Nobody wants divisive policies. It’s time to work together to forge a new path forward. The challenge to solve a generation of economic policies and create an economy that celebrates hard work over a partisan agenda gained momentum today."
Republicans used the victory to argue that they have a chance to turn the state red in November, putting it in the column for Mitt Romney and the Republican Party. Indeed, shortly after the race was called, the National Republican Senatorial Committee put out a press release saying Walker's win "spells trouble" for Democrats.
Romney phoned Walker soon after networks projected the winner and congratulated Walker on his win. Romney also put out a public statement, allying himself with Walker and saying he looked forward to "working together."
"Governor 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. ... Tonight voters said ‘no’ to the tired, liberal ideas of yesterday, and ‘yes’ to fiscal responsibility and a new direction," he said. "I look forward to working with Governor Walker to help build a better, brighter future for all Americans."
Obama's campaign director in Wisconsin, Tripp Wellde, said the recall sent a "strong message" to Walker.
"Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites from all walks of life took a stand against the politics of division and against the flood of secret and corporate money spent on behalf of Scott Walker, which amounted to a massive spending gap of more than $31 million to $4 million," Wellde said.
Walker said he plans to meet with his cabinet on Wednesday to plan education reform, job growth and bringing Wisconsin back together.
For more on the history of the Walker recall effort, as well as the songs we've chosen to embody it, click through the slideshow below:
In 2010, a surge of Tea Party momentum and backlash against Democrats helped elect conservatives including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who became the state's first Republican governor since 2002. Walker promised to cut taxes and create 250,000 new jobs, but a deeper look into his past also showed a politician who had inflamed tensions with unions before.
After taking office, Walker announced a number of controversial proposals, including eliminating collective bargaining rights for state employees and reducing public employee benefits. He said the reforms were necessary to prevent thousands of layoffs. Facing anger from unions, Walker threatened to mobilize the state's National Guard in response to any disruptions. The announcement was met with backlash across the state.
The fight over Walker's proposed budget was contentious, with Wisconsin Democratic state senators crossing state lines to Rockford, Ill. in an attempt to stall the vote. In March 2011, Walker signed the budget, significantly curtailing collective bargaining rights for union-affiliated public employees. Thousands of protesters gathered in Madison, and labor leaders and Democrats vowed to fight back.
In the months following his signing of the bill, Walker's opponents organized, announcing their intention to recall the governor and his supporters. They erected a tent city and believed they'd won a surprise victory over a conservative state supreme court judge, before amended voting totals from one county reversed the victory. Walker continued to defend his policy but said he had made mistakes in the political execution.
Wisconsin Democrats scored a victory in their attempt to unseat Republican state legislators when they defeated six "fake" Democrats running in the party's primaries. Four of the six Republicans targeted for recall held onto their seats in the general election.
Petitions to recall Walker and his lieutenant governor gathered nearly a million signatures each, far exceeding the 500,000 needed. Election officials ordered a recall election.
Democratic candidates faced tough odds from the start. In an April 2012 report, HuffPost's Amanda Terkel noted that only two sitting governors had been recalled in U.S. history. Four Democratic candidates competed in the May primary, headed by former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
After a tough primary, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett bested three other Democratic candidates in an early May primary. Barrett's victory set up a rematch with Gov. Walker, whom he lost to by about five percentage points in the 2010 race.
Less than 48 hours before the recall, Public Policy Polling (PPP) released a final poll, showing Walker with a narrow lead over his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. PPP, a firm affiliated with the Democratic Party, compiled a final poll showing Walker at 50 percent support, three percentage points ahead of Barrett's 47 percent.
After a whirlwind day of voting that featured swarmed polling places around the state, media outlets called the race for Walker less than an hour after polls closed. Full election results here.
This post has been updated to incorporate the final election results from the chart.