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Nov 4, 2014 11:04 PM

Governors: Wisconsin's Walker bests Democrat Burke

The Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker won re-election over Democratic challenger Mary Burke Tuesday, overcoming fierce opposition from organized labor for his third election victory in four years and clearing the way for a potential presidential campaign in 2016.

Walker's victory in Wisconsin was part of a larger Republican sweep in governor's races across the country. With a notable exception in Pennsylvania, GOP candidates dominated presidential swing states, holding Florida, Ohio and Michigan and flipping Democratic-leaning Illinois and Maryland.

While Walker downplayed talk of a White House bid during the campaign, his victory in a state that voted for a Democratic president and U.S. Senator in 2012 will immediately shift the focus to his future intentions.

But the governor told The Associated Press that any decision "will have to wait" while he pursues his agenda in Wisconsin.

"The bottom line is people elected me to get the job done in Wisconsin," Walker said. "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. Opponents responded by trying to boot him from office, and he became the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election the following year.

Walker's victory Tuesday was a blow to national Democrats and labor unions, which dumped millions of dollars into the race in an effort to derail the governor's national ambitions.

Now, if he decides to run for the GOP presidential nomination, Walker's conservative agenda would likely form the backbone of an eventual campaign.

Walker argued he deserved a second term because he balanced a $3.6 billion shortfall, took on special interests, cut taxes by $2 billion and presided over the addition of more than 110,000 private-sector jobs.

Burke told voters Wisconsin could have done better, blasting Walker for falling far short of his promise to add 250,000 new private-sector jobs during his first term.

The economy also loomed large for two other Midwestern governors. In resurgent Ohio, Republican Gov. John Kasich cruised to a second term in a key battleground state. In Michigan, GOP Gov. Rick Snyder bested Democratic challenger Mark Schauer.

Democratic struggles extended to reliably liberal states: In a significant upset in Maryland, Republican businessman Larry Hogan beat the state's Democratic lieutenant governor, Anthony Brown. In Vermont, the state's Democratically controlled legislature appeared likely to pick its next governor, after the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, Gov. Peter Shumlin, led Republican Scott Milne but failed to receive more than 50 percent of the vote. State law requires governor's races to go to the Legislature if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.

In Arkansas, Republican Asa Hutchison reclaimed the governorship for his party. Other contests remained too close to call, including races in Massachusetts, Kansas, Alaska and Maine.

A look at some of the most competitive contests in the country:



Republican Gov. Rick Scott edged Democrat Charlie Crist in the nation's largest swing state. The campaign was among the most expensive and nasty in the country, with both sides and their allies spending more than $100 million on television ads.

Florida Democrats had hoped that Crist, a former Republican governor, could leverage his statewide recognition to help notch the party's first gubernatorial win in 20 years.



Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is struggling in his first bid for re-election after putting in place the most conservative agenda of any governor in the country.

His prescription of massive tax and spending cuts generated a public backlash, and many Republicans have defected from him and now support Democrat Paul Davis, the state House minority leader.



Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Charlie Baker vied to replace Gov. Deval Patrick.

Baker is seeking to become the first Republican governor since Mitt Romney left office in 2007. Coakley, the state's attorney general, was seeking to become Massachusetts' first female governor.



Wealthy GOP businessman and first-time candidate Bruce Rauner ousted Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, reclaiming the governor's office for Republicans for the first time in more than a decade.

Rauner poured $26 million of his fortune into the race, criticizing the incumbent Quinn as a "failure." Quinn had pushed to raise the minimum wage while blasting Rauner as an out-of-touch "billionaire."



Democrat Mike Michaud would be the nation's first openly gay governor if he can unseat GOP Gov. Paul LePage, the only Republican governor now serving in New England.

LePage squeaked into office in 2010 with 38 percent of the vote in a three-way race, and his inflammatory rhetoric and partisan agenda have made him a divisive figure.



Democrat Tom Wolf easily dispatched GOP Gov. Tom Corbett, making the Republican the first incumbent to lose in the four decades since Pennsylvania's chief executive was allowed to seek re-election. Wolf, a former cabinet and building product magnate, left his role running the business to run for governor in 2013.



Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, turned back a challenge from Democrat Jason Carter, a state senator and the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter.


Associated Press writer Henry C. Jackson in Washington contributed to this report.


Follow Michael J. Mishak on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mjmishak


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