An election that was seen as a referendum on Republican Gov. Scott Walker's efforts to curb union power in Wisconsin remained unresolved, with a Democratic-backed challenger to a conservative Supreme Court justice ahead by 204 votes, setting the stage for a recount and even more partisan battles.
Challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg, an assistant attorney general, declared victory Wednesday afternoon, even though the margin in the unofficial count was 0.01 percent (204 votes) of the nearly 1.5 million votes cast.
Her opponent, Justice David Prosser, did not concede, and his campaign said it expected a recount, which has not been used statewide in two decades.
The only thing certain was that the results mean more conflict for the normally genial Midwestern state, which saw its political culture changed after Walker introduced his proposal in February. That bill sparked huge protests, the flight of 14 Democratic state senators to Illinois in a futile attempt to stop its passage, and a lawsuit that has halted the law's implementation.
Both parties claimed the dead-even race showed the public is on their side. Prosser, a former Republican leader in the state Assembly, won 55 percent of the vote in a primary six weeks ago — before the law passed.
Democrats tried to make an example of him by yoking him to Walker. They pointed out that if Kloppenburg's lead holds, it would be only the second ouster of a state Supreme Court justice at the polls in 41 years.
A Democrat also handily won Walker's old job as Milwaukee County executive, beating a Republican legislator who had voted for Walker's bill. The party picked up another county executive post in a conservative county that had once been home to red-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy.
Mark Jefferson, executive director of the state Republican Party, said the conventional wisdom was that Prosser would lose in a landslide. "Their momentum is running out of gas," he said of the Democrats, adding that the heavy voter turnout for a normally overlooked election showed there are many residents who support Walker's goals.
Walker's law increases the amount that public workers pay for health insurance and makes them pay for their pensions, which amounts to an 8 percent pay cut. Unions have agreed to those concessions. But they oppose the main provision of the bill, which would end their ability to collectively bargain for benefits or raises above inflation, stop them from automatically collecting dues and force an annual vote to stay in business.
They contend those measures are simply intended to kill public-sector unions, which tend to back Democrats. Walker exempted police, state troopers and firefighters, who are more likely to support Republicans, saying he couldn't risk them going on strike. He says the law is needed to rein in a $3.6 billion budget deficit.
The law passed last month, when Republicans in the state Senate used a parliamentary maneuver to vote on it in the absence of Democrats, who had fled to deny the GOP a quorum. A Dane County judge ruled, however, that the GOP apparently violated the state's open meetings law and put the measure on hold.