By Brendan O'Brien
WEST ALLIS Wis. (Reuters) - Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker has won re-election, Reuters/Ipsos projected on Tuesday, prevailing in a tough fight against Democratic challenger Mary Burke.
Walker, 47, a conservative Tea Party favorite considered to have presidential aspirations, also survived a recall election in 2012, beating back a labor-backed effort to oust him from the governor’s office.
"We thought more about the next generation than we did about the next election," Walker told supporters.
Walker supporters broke out into a cheer of "Four more years" when projections declaring him the winner were announced.
"I am over-the-moon excited," Walker volunteer Valerie Houk, 57, a stay-at-home mother, said at the evening rally.
Walker rose to national prominence among conservatives in 2011 when within weeks of taking office, he pushed for legislation that restricted the power of many public-sector unions. That led to a special recall election the following year.
He has made appearances in Iowa, New Hampshire and other states, and published a campaign-themed biography, adding to the perception he is preparing for a 2016 presidential run.
"True freedom does not come from the mighty hand of the government, but from the power of the people to live their own lives," Walker said.
Walker focused his campaign on Wisconsin erasing a $3.6 billion budget deficit and on steady improvement in the state's economy, although job growth fell short of his campaign promise to add 250,000 jobs in his first term.
He avoided a campaign focus on social issues that have been divisive for Republican candidates such as same-sex marriage and abortion.
Burke, a former state commerce secretary and current Madison-area school board member, focused her campaign partly on Walker's inability to meet the jobs promise.
Pre-election polls gave Walker a slight edge over Burke, who was head of strategy and director of European operations for Trek, a bicycle company founded by her father.
"It's OK to be disappointed tonight, but it’s not OK to not get back up," Burke said. "So that's what we are going to do. Dust ourselves off and get back up."
Pollsters found Wisconsin divided when it comes to Walker, with few undecided voters ahead of the election.
"We have to change our governor and get him the hell out of office," said Joanne Koehn, a voice teacher, who voted in downtown Milwaukee on Tuesday.
Jordan Wescott, 33, who said he voted for Walker before heading to work on Tuesday morning, said he ran a construction company and was a veteran of the Wisconsin Air National Guard.
"I feel he's an honest person and he's very black and white on issues and he stays out of the social issues, which I like," said Wescott, who described himself as fiscally conservative, but leaning liberal on social issues including gay marriage.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in West Allis, Wis. and Michael Flaherty in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)