In a vote with possible presidential election implications, Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin will survive a bitter recall effort.
Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, hoping to unseat Walker, led early in Dane County, home to Madison, and Milwaukee, according to the county clerk's website.
But Walker led in Ozaukee, Racine, Waukesa, Washington and Sheboygan counties, according to returns on clerk and county websites.
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, also a Republican, will hold onto her office.
A state official said on condition of not being identified that turnout appeared to be strong, with reports of some polling places running out of forms for same-day voter registration.
Voters inundated by advertising and door-to-door canvassing delivered their judgments on Walker, a Republican hero for pushing austerity measures that stripped collective bargaining rights from most public unions.
The vitriolic campaign included tens of millions of dollars in funding from outside the state, mostly for the Republican governor.
The race was a rematch of the 2010 governor's contest, won by Walker with more than 52% of the vote.
This time, the stakes were higher.
The victory by the first-term governor may give Republicans a major boost in efforts to make Wisconsin a battleground state in the November presidential election.
President Barack Obama easily won the state in 2008, but Walker's unyielding commitment to fiscal austerity in the face of chaotic protests last year made him the poster child for tea party conservatism.
Walker complained that repeated recall efforts over past years were stalling progress and costing the state needed money.
On Tuesday, Barrett said he agreed that voters are tired of recall politics, but he blamed Walker for creating a divisive political environment that inspired the effort to oust him.
"What Gov. Walker doesn't say is he was the one who, these are his words, dropped the bomb and attempted to divide and conquer. So he set out on a strategy to divide this state. He succeeded in dividing the state," Barrett said, adding that the proper course now is to "get rid of the instigator rather than to allow him to continue because I think this state will remain this bitterly divided if he continues in office."
About $64 million was spent on the race since November, an analysis from the Center for Public Integrity found. That's a state record, shattering the record of $37.4 million spent during the 2010 governor's race.
Walker outraised his opponent by an almost 8-1 ratio, collecting $30.5 million to Barrett's $4 million. Roughly two-thirds of Walker's contributions came from out of state, the Center for Public Integrity reported, while only a quarter of Barrett's funds originated from outside Wisconsin.
Barrett said Tuesday that such outside influence is a change for Wisconsin.
"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," Barrett said.
The recall effort was spurred by a Walker-backed law, signed in March 2011, to limit the collective bargaining rights of state worker unions.
During a bitter fight over the law last year, Democratic legislators left the capital to prevent a quorum, and tens of thousands of protesters converged on the State Capitol building in what became an occupation.
After the law was signed, Democrats immediately began a recall effort that led to Tuesday's vote.
Walker defended his budget actions as necessary for the fiscal health of his state and described his campaign as one of a strong leader who is making the necessary "tough decisions."
The campaign was fierce, with campaigners complaining of keyed cars, verbal harassment and a general lack of tolerance for differing opinions.
"We have an example of Hatfields and McCoys going on in this state like we have never seen," said Brian Nemoir, a Milwaukee-based Republican strategist. "People are hyper-engaged, as much in support for their own candidate as in disgust for the opponent."
A litany of Republican stars campaigned for Walker, including fellow 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.