Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker survived a serious re-election threat from Democrat Mary Burke, again winning in a blue state and keeping his potential 2016 ambitions alive.
Walker, who survived a recall effort in 2012, became a deeply polarizing figure in the state, particularly for his aggressive efforts to limit collective bargaining for most public workers. Underlying much of the coverage of the election was his possible ambitions for a 2016 presidential run.
Burke, whose family founded the Trek Bicycle Company, ran as a pro-business moderate and did not emphasize labor issues as much as previous Democratic candidates in the state. She cut checks for $5 million to her own campaign.
Shortly after he took office, Walker predicted he would grow the state by 250,000 new jobs – and while he didn’t quite meet that goal – most of those who supported him today said that economic conditions in Wisconsin are better today than four years ago. The NBC News exit poll showed that nearly half – 46% -- of Wisconsin voters said the state’s economic conditions are better today than four years ago. Another 32% said they are worse and 21% said they are about the same. Among those who said the economy in Wisconsin is better, 80% cast a vote for Gov. Walker.
And for Walker to win tonight he had to hold onto voters in the middle, after having staked out a conservative agenda over the last four years. And the exit polls show that while his support among moderates dropped from 55% in 2010 to 46%, Gov. Walker was able to hold onto a 53% majority of independents.
Wisconsin voters were evenly divided on their opinion of how Walker handled implementation of the Affordable Care Act – 48% approved and 49% disapproved – but that may actually bolster his chances among the Republican base should he decide to seek his party’s nomination for president.