Polls close at 9 p.m. ET but we surely won’t get a call until late tonight, and maybe not even then. Candidly (and predictably), I’m less confident than I was 24 hours ago. Simply too many reports floating around out there about monster Democratic turnout — here’s an ominous claim via a Dem flack — to believe that that 5-6 point lead in the polls will completely hold up. I’m thinking more like 51/49 at this point. For Walker. I think.

The stakes are as high as can be. Even David Brooks shudders in horror at the lessons that’ll be learned if Walker ends up being cashiered on the charge of fiscal sanity in the first degree:

Walker’s method was obnoxious, but if he is recalled that will send a broader message, with effects far beyond Wisconsin. It will be a signal that voters are, indeed, unwilling to tolerate tough decisions to reduce debt. In Washington and in state capitals, it will confirm the view that voters don’t really care about red ink. It will remove any hope this country might have of avoiding a fiscal catastrophe.

On the other hand, if Walker wins today, it will be a sign, as the pollster Scott Rasmussen has been arguing, that the voters are ahead of the politicians. It will be a sign that voters do value deficit reduction and will vote for people who accomplish it, even in a state that has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1984.

A vote to keep Walker won’t be an antiunion vote. It will be a vote against any special interest that seeks to preserve exorbitant middle-class benefits at the expense of the public good. It will tell the presidential candidates that it is safe to get specific about what they will do this December, when hard deficit choices will have to be made.

Follow the link for more on his fervent hope that the reason Obama stayed away from Wisconsin is because deep down he’s serious about fiscal sanity too. Ahem. Meanwhile, over at the Standard, Jay Cost is also thinking big picture:

The old craft and industrial unions had a stake in the private economy: the faster it grew, the more workers were needed, and the more money everybody made. However, that is not how public sector unionism works at all. In fact, the interest of the public sector unions is not in growing the private economy, but of socializing an ever-greater portion of the national wealth.

And these unions have a decidedly clientelistic relationship with the Democratic party. They provide money for the campaign in exchange for special benefits after the election… Today’s Democrats protect and expand government unions whenever and wherever they are able – by fighting efforts to trim collective bargaining rights, by opposing school choice, by resisting efforts to make the government function more efficiently, etc…

In many respects, labor unions are an artifact of an age long gone, and they remain in existence today due in part to the political needs of the Democratic party. Republicans are thus bound to have a tense relationship with them, but the GOP is obliged to step in – as Governor Walker has – when the unions are behaving in a way that runs contrary to the public interest. Here’s hoping that Walker is vindicated today, and that Republican leaders around the country have the courage to follow his lead.

Well said — but ironically, the campaign itself didn’t boil down to a referendum on the collective bargaining law. Barrett openly acknowledges that he wasn’t the preferred choice of labor in the Democratic primary and he largely avoided the CB issue in the general, leading Reince Priebus to crow, “It’s funny, because this thing was supposed to be about collective bargaining, but I don’t remember the Democrats talking about collective bargaining in this campaign.” If Walker is upset tonight, expect the GOP to lead with that argument tomorrow: The Democrats chose not to make this election about PEUs, therefore the results shouldn’t be interpreted as an endorsement of PEUs. If Walker isn’t upset tonight, expect to hear that argument from labor instead.

Lots of updates coming but let’s get this thread up now so that people can start commenting. The NYT will be updating results in the sidebar here after 9 p.m.; I’ll add links to other results pages if I find better ones.

Update: An update on that eye-popping 119 percent turnout claim from deep blue Madison earlier. Things have cooled off since this morning and now they’re only anticipating, er, 96 percent turnout. Yay?

Update: Via Reason, a hopeful note from CBS’s exit poll:

The exit polls also showed that 60 percent of Wisconsin voters today said recall elections are only appropriate for official misconduct, while 28 percent think they are suitable for any reason. Nine percent think they are never appropriate.

If Walker loses, how will stat-heads reconcile that data point with the results?

Update: Breaking from the Standard’s Stephen Hayes:

Two WI GOP sources say Dems/Barrett preparing lawsuit to keep polls open late in Dane & Milwaukee counties. GOP will fight it.

Update: Via Philip Klein, you might want to open up this page in a separate tab and keep it handy for reference when results start coming in. It’s the county-by-county results from Walker’s victory over Barrett in 2010. That’s your baseline for tonight; if either candidate looks like he’s overperforming vis-a-vis his 2010 numbers in the early going, it’ll give you a sense of how this one’s likely to go.

Update: Early lefty consolation spin from TNR: Maybe it’s a good sign for Obama if Walker wins because it proves that Wisconsinites are optimistic about the economy.

Update: In case you’re wondering about that other race in Wisconsin, Obama leads Romney 51/45 in tonight’s exit poll. He beat McCain there by 14 points four years ago. If Walker ends up pulling this out, I hope we get some data tomorrow about that five or six percent who are thinking of splitting their ticket between Walker and O. That’s a … mighty curious group.

Update: Ace’s co-blogger ConArtCritic has built his own nifty county-by-county results map that he and others will be updating starting at 9. Click here to follow their results.

Update: Here’s something to make you feel good about the integrity of the process via NRO’s Robert Costa:

A girl brings in a crumpled cable bill. Fills out a sheet. Votes.

The cable bill was her “ID.”

Update: Hopeful news from talk-show host Charlie Sykes: “GOP base votes in Ozaukee, Washington, Waukesha Counties are off the charts… Offset some of Dem turnout machine.”

Update: More horror stories from Robert Costa:

a woman tells the election official here that she has an Ohio driver’s license but an electric bill from WI. Registers and votes in Ward 177

Update: Here’s yet another county by county results page, this time from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. If I notice that one of these pages is noticeably faster than the others I’ve linked, I’ll update to let you know.

Update: It’s 8 p.m. Wisconsin time and the polls are now closed. Good luck, everyone.

Update: NBC says the data they’re seeing in the exit polls suggests the outcome will be a “coin flip.” A few minutes ago, people were tweeting that CNN said the exits showed an even 50/50 split. Dude, I’m nervous.

Update: If the exit polls hold up, then we’re almost certainly not going to know the winner tonight. Note this well, via Taegan Goddard:

An important point: As many as 12% of Wisconsin voters voted by absentee ballot and these voters are not counted in the exit polling.

Chuck Todd is tweeting that absentees that were received before today will be counted along with the other votes tonight but absentees that are received later this week will also be counted so long as they were postmarked by today.

Update: Looks like those early exits showing Obama over Romney by six were a little off.

With a third wave of exit poll data in, Wisconsin recall voters said they would pick President Obama over Republican Mitt Romney by a 54-42 percent margin in Wisconsin.

Exit polls show a tight race between incumbent Gov. Scott Walker (R) and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. If Walker is able to stave off the challenge and keeps his job, the Obama-Romney head-to-head numbers will throw cold water on analyses claiming the recall is a harbinger for this fall’s presidential election.

If Walker pulls this out via an electorate that’s giving O more or less the same margin he had in 2008, it’ll be remarkable.

Update: Results coming in now, not looking bad so far. Barrett’s stronghold is Dane County, which includes Madison. With 16 percent in, he leads there with 56 percent of the vote — but he won the county with 68 percent in 2010. Keep an eye on that.

Update: HuffPo also has a nice county-by-county results map that comes recommended by Sean Trende of RCP. Note the three tabs for handy comparisons: “Results map,” “Margins,” and “Compare to 2010.” It updates automatically every 10 seconds. With 8.5 percent of the vote in, Walker is up big at the moment.

Update: Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says the revised exit poll doesn’t show a “coin flip” after all. The prediction is Walker 52, Barrett 48, which would be in line with most recent polls. Cross those fingers tight.

Update: With 17.6 percent of the vote counted in Dane County, Barrett now leads just 55/44. He’s supposed to blow Walker out there. If that margin holds, he’s in deep trouble.

Update: Good lord. It’s 9:51 p.m. — and NBC, of all outlets, says Scott Walker has won.

I’m woozy. Stand by.

Update: I don’t know how we got from “massive Democratic turnout” and “50/50 exit poll” to a decision-desk call in 51 minutes, but damn it, I’ll take it. I assume that the numbers in Dane County were too weak for Barrett to give him a prayer, even with less than 20 percent reporting. He needed to utterly destroy Walker there to compensate for Walker’s heavy advantage in rural areas, but as I write this, the margin’s just 11 points. Holy cow.

Now I’m wondering what the final margin will be. Will it be four? Or something bigger?

Update: No sense in delaying this any longer. Unleash the kraken.


Robot libido by sabotage

Update: Fox News just called it for Walker too. I’m hearing on Twitter that the atmosphere on MSNBC right now is as funereal as you’d expect.

Update: With 30 percent of the vote in statewide, Walker is up by — no typo — 20 points. Obviously that’s going to tighten as more of Dane County comes in, but it looks like what happened here is that Walker simply blew him out in Wisconsin’s many red counties, to the point where realistically Barrett could never catch up in Madison and its suburbs.

Update: Hearing now that ABC and CNN have also called it for Walker, which is piquing my curiosity as to what the final margin will be. Would they really call a race so early that’s destined to settle at a four-point spread, or are we looking at something wider?

Update: With 40 percent of the vote counted, Walker is ahead by … more than 18 points.

Update: Here’s Ed Schultz consoling himself with the thought that Scott Walker might be indicted soon or something. Click the image to watch.

Update: Only 38 percent of Dane County is in as I write this so the statewide margin will narrow, but incredibly, Walker’s sitting on a 17-point lead with 55 percent of the total votes counted. Wow.

Update: I removed the Obama/Romney exit poll data from the headline. If the Walker/Barrett exits were garbage, why trust the same poll on the presidential race?

Update: Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch also won tonight. Am hearing on Twitter that when she took the stage to speak, she tweaked the Madison protesters by saying, “Now this is what democracy looks like.”

Update: “Democracy died tonight.”

Update: Don’t look now, but 62 percent of Dane County is in and 64 percent of the entire state is in — and Walker still leads by 16 points. Is this actually going to be a double-digit victory?

Update: Bobby Jindal: “A lot of people thought it would be a late night in Wisconsin. I think it’s going to be a late night in Chicago.”

Update: Didn’t see it, but Byron York claims MSNBC is reporting that Barrett will not call Walker to concede. With 72 percent reporting at the moment, Walker is clinging to a, er, 12-point lead. I don’t think we’re headed for a recount, Tom.

Update: So much for trusting MSNBC. Barrett is speaking now and says that he had indeed called Walker to concede.

Update: With just a shade under 80 percent of the vote counted, Walker’s still sitting on a fat 11-point lead. Can’t wait for the stories tomorrow about how the crack exit-poll team came up with a “coin flip” result.

Update: Here’s the RCP poll rundown over the last month. How did our pollsters do?

We Ask America, which used an enormous sample, looks awfully good right now for having predicted a blowout. Walker’s probably not going to get to double digits — the margin is 9.4 points at the moment with nearly 85 percent in — but they, more than anyone else, predicted that this election wouldn’t be close. It wasn’t.

Update: David Axelrod’s in deep, deep, deep denial.

Update: 93 percent of Dane County, Barrett’s stronghold, is now in and he’s come back from a slow start to duplicate his 2010 margin — 68 percent of the vote compared to Walker’s 30 percent. Barrett didn’t underperform around Madison, in other words. He simply got crushed virtually everywhere else in the state.

Update: Total votes for Walker in 2010: 1,128,941. Total votes tonight: 1,151,224 as I write this — with more than 11 percent of precincts still to report. Wow.

Update: You ready for this? Here’s the spin out of Obama HQ this fine evening:

“While tonight’s outcome was not what we had hoped for – no one can dispute the strong message sent to Governor Walker. Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites from all walks of life took a stand against the politics of division and against the flood of secret and corporate money spent on behalf of Scott Walker, which amounted to a massive spending gap of more than $31 million to $4 million,” Tripp Wellde, campaign state director, said in a statement.

“It is a testament to all of those individuals who talked to their friends, neighbors, and colleagues about the stakes in this election of how close this contest was. The power of Wisconsin’s progressive, grassroots tradition was clearly on display throughout the run up to this election and we will continue to work together to ensure a brighter future for Wisconsin’s middle class,” Wellde said.

Walker leads by eight and a half points with nearly 93 percent of the votes counted.

Update: Some late results from blue precincts have pushed Barrett to within 7.5 points of Walker but 96 percent of the state is now in. Looks like the Marquette polls from the RCP list I posted above will prove the most accurate in the end. Walker’s vote total as of this moment is 1,256,007 votes, more than 125,000 votes better than his take two years ago. What a glorious night.

Update: Let’s end the night with a very special message from America’s most lifelike talking-points robot, for whom no electoral disaster is so disastrous that it can’t be feebly spun:

Despite the disappointing outcome, ‪#WIrecall‬ effort sent Scott Walker a message that his brand of divisive politics is offensive & wrong.

125,000 more votes this time than last time.