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Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker will stay in office, becoming the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election.

The race had Walker winning with 53 percent to 46 percent, with 97 percent of precincts reporting. Hari Trivedi, an independent, received 1 percent of the vote.

“First of all, I want to thank God for His abundant grace,” Walker told an ecstatic crowd celebrating his victory. “Tonight we tell Wisconsin, we tell our country and we tell the world that voters really do want leaders who stand up and make the tough decisions.”

Voter turnout was heavy in the race between Walker and Democratic challenger Tom Barrett, the Milwaukee mayor he faced in 2010 and beat by nearly six points. Walker successfully fought off a union-led effort to unseat him during his first term after he eliminated collective bargain agreements for state employees to close a multi-billion dollar budget gap.

Walker dominated among tea-party supporters, while Barrett led among union voters.

CBS News exit polls showed 51 percent of Wisconsin voters approve of Walker’s handling of the issue of collective bargaining. Likewise, 52 percent support his job-creation efforts.

In 2008, Obama won Wisconsin by 14 points. Now, the Walker victory is leading some Republicans to suggest the state might be within reach for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. If Romney is successful in Wisconsin, he will be the first Republican Party nominee to carry the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

According to reports, approximately $64 million had been spent on the race since November, setting a new state record. The record was previously set at $37.4 million during the 2010 governor race.

Barrett complained today, “What’s happened is, Scott Walker has become the rock star of the far right and has been able to raise literally millions of dollars from out-of-state contributors.”

Former President Bill Clinton, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley turned out to support Barrett, while Republican stars campaigned for Walker – including  governors Chris Christie of New Jersey, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Bob McDonnell of Virginia, as well as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio from Florida and legendary action star and WND columnist Chuck Norris.

“When I saw [Democrats] also send in the big guns, former President Bill Clinton himself, against Gov. Walker, I knew I had to enter the ring, too,” Norris said in his column on WND.

“There’s one primary reason that Clinton came out to Wisconsin to engage in the battle to recall Gov. Walker,” he explained.

“Democrats, liberals and progressives like him know that as Wisconsin goes on Tuesday, so possibly goes the nation in November. They fear that a win for Gov. Walker will contribute to conservative momentum that will ultimately lead to President Obama’s defeat in his campaign for re-election. And they’re right.”

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