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Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett conceded to Gov. Scott Walker late Tuesday, thanking supporters and saying, "I'm honored that you fought for this democracy."
He said he had just called Walker to congratulate him.
"It's important for us to work together," Barrett said. "This has been the most amazing experience of our lives. We've seen this democracy come alive."
For those who fought in the streets of Madison in the cold and collecting signatures and worked in the election he said: "Never, ever stop doing what you think is right."
News organizations are all calling it for Walker, based on exit polls. But Barrett refuses to concede, citing the people still waiting in line to vote in three liberal counties:
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker beat back a recall challenge Tuesday, winning both the right to finish his term and a voter endorsement of his strategy to curb state spending, which included the explosive measure that eliminated union rights for most public workers.
The rising Republican star becomes the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall attempt with his defeat of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and the union leaders who rallied for months against his agenda.
With 37 percent of precincts reporting, Walker was ahead 59 percent to Barrett's 40 percent, according to early returns tabulated by The Associated Press.
A Barrett spokesman said the campaign was not conceding, citing ongoing voting in Milwaukee, Madison and Racine.
"We feel very confident when those come in, Tom Barrett is going to win," Phil Walzak said.
Democrats and organized labor spent millions to oust Walker, but found themselves hopelessly outspent by Republicans from across the country who donated record-setting sums to Walker. Republicans hope the victory carries over into November and that their get-out-the-vote effort can help Mitt Romney become the first GOP nominee to carry the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984.