Nov 4, 2014 4:54 PM
Governors: Wisconsin vote tests Walker's ambitions
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.
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.
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.
In another hotly-contested governor's race, Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott also held on to his office in the nation's largest swing state despite a strong challenge from Democrat Charlie Crist, a former GOP governor who changed parties to run for his old job.
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 was in a tight race with Democratic challenger Mark Schauer.
Both states are among a handful of important presidential battlegrounds, including Colorado, where governors are on the ballot Tuesday.
Other close contests played out across the country, including in Massachusetts, Illinois, Kansas, Alaska and Maine.
In Pennsylvania, Democrat Tom Wolf unseated GOP Gov. Tom Corbett, and in Arkansas, Republican Asa Hutchison reclaimed the governorship for his party.
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, would 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.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn faced a tough challenge from wealthy GOP businessman and first-time candidate Bruce Rauner.
Republicans see Tuesday as a chance to reclaim the governor's office for the first time in more than a decade.
Rauner has poured $26 million of his fortune into the race, criticizing the incumbent Quinn as a "failure." Quinn has 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.
While polls suggest the race is a tossup, Michaud got a boost last week when independent candidate Eliott Cutler scaled back some advertising and said anyone who doesn't believe he can win should vote for someone else.
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, was fighting a strong challenge from Democrat Jason Carter, a state senator and the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. Polls closed at 7:30 p.m.
Associated Press writer Henry C. Jackson in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow Michael J. Mishak on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mjmishak