Wisconsin voters rejected a year-long effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker and replace him with Democratic challenger Tom Barrett. ABC News projected Walker would win the race and hang onto his job one hour after polls closed.
The recall started last year as a state fight over Walker's efforts to curb public unions in his state. But with its fierce debate over how to resolve the country's budget woes and tens of millions in outside political money pouring into Wisconsin, the recall morphed into what many viewed as a preview of what to expect this fall when Obama battles GOP nominee Mitt Romney for the Oval Office.
"Voters really do want the leaders who make the tough decisions," Walker told a gathering of supporters in Waukesha, clearly viewing his victory as a validation of his stance toward public employee unions.
But he sought to strike a conciliatory tone, inviting Democrats to work with him. He halted supporters from booing Barrett and told them, "Tonight the election is over." Walker promised to invite Democrats and Republicans over for "brats" next week.
The victory is a boon to Walker and Republicans in this key battleground state that opted for President Obama by nearly 15 percent four years ago. It may also be interpreted as a validation of Walker's confrontational efforts to curb public employee unions. Walker's lieutenant governor, Rebecca Leefisch, withstood a twin recall effort.
"Gov. 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's results will echo beyond the borders of Wisconsin," said Romney in a statement.
But voters in exit polls today said they favored Obama over Mitt Romney in November by an 11 point margin (53-42 percent).
"Wisconsin is a preview of what the November election is going to look like in many of these swing states," ABC News' political director Amy Walter said, "and that is millions and millions of dollars spent just to try to influence a dwindling percentage of swing voters and the two sides working very hard to make sure that their voters come and turn out."
While they said they preferred Obama, 52 percent of those who responded to exit polls approved of Walker's work on job creation, a key factor in the race Tuesday.
The Wisconsin recall election was only the third time in the nation's history that a sitting governor had faced a midterm recall, and that struck a sour note with voters. Six in 10 said recalls are only appropriate for reasons of official misconduct.
Walker had come under fire after he stripped collective bargaining rights for many public employees, infuriating labor groups in the state and around the country. Some voters, such as Keith Klawein, a union member and electrician for the Milwaukee schools, said Walker's actions had been devastating to them financially.
"For me it's a straight 10 percent cut in wages, which affects the way that I can support my family," he told ABC News. "My disposable income has basically been completely eliminated."