MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker won a hard fought election over Democratic challenger Mary Burke Tuesday, overcoming fierce opposition from unions and other liberal groups for his third victory in four years and cementing his position as a possible contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
Walker told The Associated Press after he was projected the winner that any decision about running for president "will have to wait," as he focuses on quickly passing his agenda through the Legislature next year. While he downplayed talk of a 2016 run on the campaign trail, his victory in a state that voted for a Democratic president and U.S. Senator in 2012 will immediately shift the focus to his intentions for 2016.
"The bottom line is people elected me to get the job done in Wisconsin," Walker told AP. "We're going to spend the next couple months putting together our legislative agenda."
Walker became a hero to conservatives for taking on public sector unions, stripping them of nearly all collective bargaining authority. But the move angered them and led to a recall election in 2012, which he won.
The race this year was the toughest of Walker's long political career. Polls showed it was deadlocked for months, even as Walker and Burke and their backers flooded the airwaves with attack ads to influence a sliver of undecided voters and motivate partisans to show up.
Walker argued he deserved a second term because he balanced a $3.6 billion budget shortfall, took on special interests such as the unions, cut taxes $2 billion and presided over the addition of more than 110,000 private-sector jobs.
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."
Josef Litchfield, 34, of Madison, who is about to become a father for the first time, said he voted for Walker because he thought his policies were better for his young family.
"He's held down my property taxes, down as much as they've been held down as long as I've been a homeowner," said Litchfield, who has owned his house for nine years. "The more in my pocket, having a young family, is important."
But Burke said Wisconsin could have done better. Walker did not come close to delivering on his promise to add 250,000 new private-sector jobs and the next state budget faces a $1.8 billion shortfall. Burke also argued that Walker was divisive instead of bringing people together.
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. "I do think Walker has divided the state. That was my tipping point. We've got to become more neutral."
Walker said he planned to meet with his cabinet on Wednesday and then tour the state visiting technical colleges on Thursday.
Walker's win comes two years after Wisconsin voters re-elected President Barack Obama by 7 points and elected a liberal Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin. But Republicans typically do better in midterm elections.
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 raised $25 million since the middle of 2013, but outside groups spent millions more.
Total spending on the race was expected to reach up to $60 million.
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