Gov. Scott Walker will return to the governor’s mansion for a second term, fending off a challenge from Democratic challenger Mary Burke that might catapult him to a White House run in 2016.
Walker — who became the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election in 2012 — had 53.3 percent of the vote while Burke had 45.5 percent with 91 percent of precincts reporting.
Walker told a packed crowd in West Allis’ State Fair Park that “we’re excited about the next four years.”
“We were for a better Wisconsin, for better schools, for a better university system, for a better technical college system, for a better economy, for a better future for our children and our grandchildren,” Walker said. “I’m an optimist. I believe here in Wisconsin, in America, we want to be for something, not against something.”
Walker praised Burke’s commitment to Wisconsin, noting a picture both of them took together on their last week of the campaign.
“I think that picture signalizes tonight that she had a great love for her state just like her supporters did,” Walker said.
what are the odds? pic.twitter.com/oeedkEaqTw
— Mary Burke (@Burke4WI) November 3, 2014
In her concession speech at Madison’s Overture Center, Burke struck an optimistic tone, quoting a Vince Lombardi poster she had hung up in her campaign office at the beginning of the race: “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get back up.”
She thanked her supporters for the team effort and encouraged them to continue their fight, saying, “We never waver in getting back up.”
“We know we are all better when everyone in this community and across this great nation has a fair shot to get ahead,” Burke said. “And we know a fair shot means great affordable public education from kindergarten through university. No one who has dreams and is willing to work hard should be priced out of an education.”
Burke congratulated Walker on his victory although she maintained they still “don’t agree on much,” drawing laughs from the crowd.
“Anyone who runs for public office subjects themselves to public scrutiny and makes sacrifices, and for this, he has my respect,” Burke said.
The governor’s race once again brought national attention to Wisconsin politics, with money pouring in from out of state and both candidates getting national figures to campaign with them. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie campaigned for Walker, while President Barack Obama and his wife stumped for Burke, with first lady Michelle Obama doing a stop in Madison to turn out the student vote.
Walker was first elected governor in 2010, but was on the ballot again in 2012, facing a recall challenge that stemmed from a collective bargaining law that brought tens of thousands of protesters to the state Capitol.
Burke is a relative political newcomer, serving on the Madison School Board since 2012. She was previously an executive at Trek Bicycle and served as the state’s commerce secretary under former Gov. Jim Doyle.
Walker’s victory Tuesday also keeps him in the conversation for a possible 2016 presidential bid, said Mike Wagner, a University of Wisconsin journalism professor.
“If you’re the kind of person that thinks Gov. Walker might run for president, you have a lot of evidence to support that,” Wagner said.
.@ScottWalker tells AP in first post-election victory interview that any decision on running for president "will have to wait"
— Scott Bauer (@sbauerAP) November 5, 2014
In his victory speech, Walker slammed those in Washington D.C., contrasting their vision to the one he has in Wisconsin.
“In Washington they tend to measure success in government by how many people are dependent on the government,” Walker said. “We measure success by how many people are no longer dependent on government … not because we push them out to the cold but because we understand that true freedom and prosperity doesn’t come from the mighty hand of the government. It comes from empowering people to live their own lives.”
The UW College Republicans celebrated at Brickhouse Barbeque in Madison as the results came in. Charlie Hoffmann, the group’s chair, said the turnout at their watch party “speaks to the idea that Madison isn’t as liberal as everyone says.”
Matt Morrissette, a UW College Republicans member, said politics are involved in every aspect of citizens’ lives.
“That’s why these people are so excited about Walker,” Morrissette said. “It’s because they believe he stands for what they believe in.”
In the race for attorney general, Republican Brad Schimel won with 52.6 percent of the vote, while Democrat Susan Happ had 44.3 percent of the vote with 91 percent of precincts reporting. Happ is the Jefferson County district attorney, while Schimel is the Waukesha County district attorney.
The current attorney general, Republican J.B. Van Hollen, decided against running for a third term.
The attorney general race has gone widely under the public’s radar, with about 70 percent of likely voters saying they didn’t know the candidates in a recent Marquette University Law School poll. Even so, the race took a negative turn, with brutal television and radio attack ads from both sides.
Doug La Follette, Wisconsin’s longtime secretary of state, won his re-election race against Republican Julian Bradley, while Republican Matt Adamczyk will be the new state treasurer after he defeated Democrat David Sartori.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, will serve another two years in his Madison-area congressional seat after beating Republican Peter Theron. In an interview at the Overture Center, Pocan said the day was bittersweet, as he was re-elected to Congress but watched Burke lose against Walker.
Republicans also kept their majorities in the state Senate and the state Assembly.
“It’s a bittersweet day because coming from state government for 14 years, I’d like to see it working again, and it hasn’t worked well for the last four years, and I hoped that this campaign could be that catalyst for change to have Democrats and Republicans working together instead of one side or the other having all the say,” Pocan said.
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, again defeated his Democratic challenger Rob Zerban. The five other incumbent U.S. representatives from Wisconsin were re-elected.
In the only open Wisconsin congressional race, state Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-Campbellsport, will head to Congress after beating Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris in the Republican-leaning district.
Roughly eighty percent of Wisconsin voters also approved an amendment to Wisconsin’s constitution that protects the state’s transportation fund.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Logan Reigstad and Kaitlin McIntosh contributed reporting.