Conservative Republican Scott Walker rode his promise to both cut taxes and government spending in a win Tuesday over Democrat Tom Barrett to become Wisconsin's first Republican governor in eight years.
With 48 percent of precincts reporting, Walker won 54 percent to 45 percent, based on unofficial results.
Voters who backed Walker said they thought he was the better choice to turn around the state's economy, spur job creation and cut the bureaucracy. Several also said they liked his opposition to a federally funded high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee.
"He will get the fiscal situation in Wisconsin back in order," said voter Carolyn Thorpe, a 65-year-old administrative assistant at Calvary Gospel Church in Madison. "More jobs will be created under his leadership."
The seat was open after unpopular two-term Democratic incumbent Gov. Jim Doyle decided not to seek a third term. Republicans attempted to link Barrett to Doyle at every turn, with ads labeling Barrett like Doyle "only worse."
"I don't like our governor now," said William Lubkeman, 86, of Madison, explaining why he voted for Walker.
Doyle contributed $1.5 million to a liberal group that ran attack ads against Walker, but it wasn't enough to turn the tide. Thanks in part to outside money like that, and millions spent by the campaigns, the race was expected to cost between $45 million and $50 million, making it the most expensive in Wisconsin history.
Walker won despite a strong push by the White House to keep the office in Democratic control. President Barack Obama campaigned for Barrett and raised money for him in Wisconsin. The White House wanted to keep Wisconsin, traditionally a swing state, in Democratic control heading into the redistricting process and the 2012 election.
Barrett, 56, gained national exposure after he was beaten outside the state fair last year. He will remain the mayor of Milwaukee, a position he's held since 2004.
The 43-year-old Walker, the Milwaukee County executive, said his tax cut plans will generate economic growth and lead to the creation of 250,000 new jobs. He's promised to cut billions of dollars in taxes, which he said will help spur that economic growth while Barrett argued such a move was unrealistic and would lead to deep cuts to schools, health care and other state programs.
Barrett backer Sharon Kelley of Sun Prairie said she voted for the Democrat because she was convinced he would protect state services. She blamed the country's economic woes on former President George W. Bush's administration and said the economy will be a problem for whoever wins office for years to come.
"The economy is a problem no matter who you vote for," Kelley said. "In the two short years since Obama has been elected, there hasn't been time to see the product."
Walker inherits a $2.7 billion budget shortfall and a host of campaign promises that will be difficult to keep given the state's ongoing economic struggles. Wisconsin's unemployment rate is 7.8 percent, nearly double what it was four years ago when Doyle won re-election.
The Walker victory marks the first time a Republican has been elected governor Tommy Thompson in 1998. No Democrat has ever held the office more than eight years in Wisconsin's 163-year history.
The win wasn't a surprise: polls showed Walker ahead throughout the entire campaign.