MADISON, Wis. – Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett won the Democratic primary Tuesday in Wisconsin's historic recall election, emerging from a field of three Democrats to face Republican Gov. Scott Walker next month.
Barrett's win sets up a June 5 rematch of the 2010 governor's race in what will be the culmination of an effort to oust the first-term Republican that officially began more than six months ago.
The recall, triggered by the collection of more than 900,000 petition signatures, was spurred by anger over Walker's proposal passed last year taking collective bargaining rights from public workers.
Barrett, who gained national attention in 2009 when he intervened in an attack at the state fair, had 54 percent of the vote in preliminary results.
"We know that the real battle is ahead and it's really going to be a battle for the values of Wisconsin," Barrett told The Associated Press shortly after the race was called. "Our view is Scott Walker has done a lot of damage to the state and Wisconsin can't be fixed as long as Scott Walker is governor."
Walker planned to speak later Tuesday night.
Former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who was the favored candidate of the unions that pushed the recall, came in second with 37 percent of the vote, with 32 percent of precincts reporting.
Union leaders said they were ready to quickly pivot and summon support for Barrett.
"I think we'll get just as much activism," said AFL-CIO national political director Mike Podhorzer. "This isn't about `Are we for team A or team B,' this is about what workers need. And workers understand they are being hurt by Walker."
Barrett has had a rocky relationship with unions over the years and some Wisconsin union leaders urged him not to get into the recall race. He has promised to work toward restoring collective bargaining rights Walker took away, but he didn't go as far as Falk, who pledged to veto any state budget that didn't undo Walker's changes.
Other Democrats on the ballot finished far behind. Secretary of State Doug La Follette got 4 percent followed by state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout with 3 percent.
Gladys Huber, the fake Democrat, got less than 1 percent.
Walker easily defeated Arthur Kohl-Riggs, a Walker opponent running as a Republican.
The June 5 recall is one of the most closely watched elections in the nation outside of the presidential race. Walker has tapped his status as a national conservative rock star to raise $25 million so far, most of it from out of state, shattering fundraising records he set during the 2010 race.
Walker has embodied the Republican rise to power in 2010 and hopes to avoid becoming just the third governor to be recalled in U.S. history.
Barrett, 58, has been mayor of Milwaukee since 2004. He's popular in Wisconsin's largest, and mostly Democratic, city. He won re-election in April with 70 percent of the vote. Walker beat him by 5 percentage points, or about 125,000 votes, in November 2010. Barrett also ran for governor in 2002 but lost in the Democratic primary.
Barrett previously served eight years in the state Legislature and 10 years in Congress.