Wisconsin's Republican Governor Scott Walker leads his challenger Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett by five percentage points as the pair squared off for a debate on Friday before a special election to recall the governor on June 5.
Walker faces a special election after he angered Democrats and labor unions by pushing through the state legislature a law that reduces the power of public sector labor unions. Walker would become the third governor in United States history to be recalled if he loses.
During the one-hour debate in Milwaukee, Walker touted his efforts to balance the state's budget by curbing the power of public sector labor unions, while Barrett painted the first-term governor as untrustworthy.
The two candidates are familiar foes, with Walker defeating Barrett by five points in the 2010 gubernatorial race. A recent poll conducted by St. Norbert College and Wisconsin Public Radio showed Barrett trailing Walker by a similar margin, 50 to 45 percent.
Walker's changes to organized labor last year forced state and local government workers like teachers to pay a portion of the cost of health insurance and pensions, capped wage increases and required unions to be recertified every year. Walker said the reforms were needed to close a budget gap, while Democrats and unions said they were an effort at "union busting."
Walker said during the debate that the state now has a $154 million surplus and has experienced more than $1 billion in savings due to his reforms.
"We balanced [the] budget without raising taxes, without massive layoffs, and cuts in programs," Walker said. "The good news is that our reforms are working and that is why our opponents don't talk about them anymore."
The two candidates will square off again for another debate Thursday.
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