By ?SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican Scott Walker hoped to return Wisconsin’s governor’s office to Republican control for the first time in eight years with a win in Tuesday’s election, while Tom Barrett struggled to overcome the legacy of the unpopular Democratic incumbent.
No Democrat has ever held the office more than eight years in Wisconsin’s 163-year history. Polls leading up to the election showed that trend was likely to continue, as Walker held a lead over Barrett, who is mayor of Milwaukee.
The winner will inherit a $2.7 billion budget shortfall and a host of campaign promises that will be difficult to keep given the state’s ongoing economic struggles. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is 7.8 percent, nearly double what it was four years ago when Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle won re-election. Amid the worst approval ratings of his tenure, Doyle decided last year not to seek a third term.
The race has been closely watched nationally, with President Barack Obama campaigning and raising money for Barrett and a host of Republican governors and other officials coming in for Walker.
The White House wants to keep Wisconsin, traditionally a swing state, in Democratic control heading into the redistricting process and the 2012 election. A Republican hasn’t won election as governor since Tommy Thompson in 1998.
Economic issues dominated the race, with Walker promising to create 250,000 jobs in his first term through massive tax cuts he said will spur growth.
Barrett said he could replace the 180,000 jobs lost during the recession through a better economic development plan and targeted investments, but he has not promised tax cuts.
Walker, who is Milwaukee County executive, also made clear his opposition to a new high-speed train line. Barrett said it would be wrong to stop the train since it would put 5,500 people to work building it.
• In the Senate race, Sen. Russ Feingold, one of the Senate’s most prominent liberal Democrats, is fighting to keep his seat Tuesday against a Republican millionaire who pledged to use his business experience to create jobs and balance budgets.
Feingold campaigned heavily on his reputation as a maverick, billing himself as an independent who fights for the people of Wisconsin instead of kowtowing to his party or special interests.
But standing between Feingold and his fourth term was Republican challenger Ron Johnson, the president of a plastics firm in Oshkosh.
Johnson, who spent about $7 million of his own money on his campaign, painted Feingold as a Washington insider who contributed to the nation’s debt. Feingold countered that his challenger offered only rhetoric instead of substantive solutions.
The contest has been one of the nation’s most-watched Senate races because the GOP needs to pick up a net of 10 seats to win back a majority.
Feingold famously worked with Republican Sen. John McCain in 2002 to pass the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill, which attempted to limit the influence of special-interest money in political campaigns.
However, a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision rolled back some protections, making it easier for corporations and unions to spend money in elections.
That decision directly affected the Wisconsin race: Outside groups poured $1.7 million into ads supporting Johnson compared to $140,000 for Feingold.
At first, Feingold’s seat had been seen as one of the safer ones. Observers initially predicted that former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson was the only Republican who could give the 57-year-old Feingold a serious challenge. When Thompson declined to run, Republicans seemed to have no worthy alternative.
But Johnson, who rose to prominence after giving two well-received tea party speeches, jumped in the race and ran on his business credentials.
Johnson, 55, scored well in early polls, resonating with voters who felt Feingold had been in office too long or who were frustrated that President Barack Obama had not delivered on his message of change.
If Johnson wins, he would be the state’s first Republican senator since 1992.
The Associated Press’ Dinesh Ramde also contributed to this report.