Scott Walker's triumph boosts Mitt Romney in key Wisconsin election test

Republican 'union-basher' thwarts Democrats to become first in US history to survive a recall vote

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The Independent US

Mitt Romney and his presidential campaign team were jubilant yesterday after the Republican Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, thwarted a furious effort to unseat him as punishment for stripping collective bargaining rights from public workers.

With a margin far exceeding expectations, Mr Walker defeated his challenger, the Democrats' Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, by 53 per cent to 46 per cent in the election on Tuesday.

He becomes the first governor in US history to survive a recall vote and emerges as a hero to conservative and Tea Party groups nationwide – increasing concerns for President Barack Obama's re-election efforts.

The vote was the climax of 16 months of fierce political warfare in Wisconsin that erupted when, weeks after assuming office early last year, Governor Walker pushed through measures to peel away collective bargaining rights from public service employees and cut other benefits. While he said the reforms were necessary to tackle the state's huge budget deficit, others saw it as a bare-faced assault on union power.

His victory is already sending ripples across the national electoral landscape. The union movement spent millions trying to oust the governor. The failure spells trouble going forward, not least because it will embolden conservatives in other states to emulate Mr Walker's union-busting agenda.

"Tonight we tell Wisconsin, we tell our country and we tell people all across the globe that voters really do want leaders who stand up and make the tough decisions," Governor Walker said in his victory speech.

Mr Romney, who has drawn into a near dead heat with Mr Obama in recent opinion polls ahead of November's presidential contest, will do his best to ride the momentum created by Governor Walker – not least in Wisconsin, which until now had been considered beyond his grasp by pundits.

Governor Walker "has shown that citizens and taxpayers can fight back and prevail against the runaway government costs imposed by labour bosses," Mr Romney said in a statement. "Voters said no to the tired, liberal ideas of yesterday, and yes to fiscal responsibility and a new direction." The voters' verdict will "echo beyond the borders of Wisconsin," he added.

The Obama camp will also see danger signs in the dollar war that was waged in Wisconsin. Mr Walker outspent his foe by roughly eight to one, thanks in part to a flood of money from conservative backers outside the state. Mr Obama will face a much larger deluge of conservative cash.

In 2008, Mr Obama took Wisconsin by a 15-point margin and it is hard to see him winning a second term in the White House in November if he cannot hold on to it again. That he will have to fight for it – and spend money in the state – now seems evident.

"The close vote on Tuesday confirms that Wisconsin will be a swing state," said Republican strategist Terry Nelson. Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, concurred. "Obviously, Scott Walker winning tonight means that the Republicans are here for real," he said.

But Mr Obama, who last night arrived in California for two days of fundraising, still has reason not to panic about Wisconsin, in spite of Tuesday's result. While there was clearly a surge of support for Governor Walker, exit polling still gave the President a 51-44 edge over Mr Romney among those who voted.

Proofreaders wanted for 'a better Amercia'

It is "offical": Mitt Romney needs a new copywriter. After three embarrassing spelling mistakes appeared in his online presidential campaign material in the space of a week, his team has placed a job advert appealing for writers with the key ability to "edit and proof own work". It follows a particularly cringeworthy howler that led to "America " being written as "Amercia" on the Republican candidate's iPhone app launched last week. That was soon compounded by his Facebook page, which offered sales of "offical" rather than "official" merchandise, and a "sneak-peak" instead of a "sneak-peek" at his upcoming television ad.

Rob Hastings