Wisconsin voters turned a state supreme court election into a referendum against the controversial law that restricts union rights for public employees.
The liberal candidate, JoAnne Kloppenburg, harnessed enough union votes to unseat a conservative incumbent often associated with Gov. Scott Walker.
Justice David Prosser won a nonpartisan, four-way primary with 55 percent of the vote. The general election was expected to be a runaway after second-place finisher Kloppenburg got half as many votes.
But Wednesday, unofficial election returns showed Kloppenburg with a slim 204-vote lead over Prosser. His campaign has said a recount is expected.
Political observers say the election shows the state is sharply divided on the battle between government and unions.
"You have two very different worlds in this state," the governor said. "You have a world driven by Madison and a world driven by everybody else out across the state of Wisconsin."
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political scientist Mordecai Lee, a former Democratic legislator, agreed with Walker on that view. He said Walker doesn't have the overwhelming support from a silent majority as he has claimed for the past two months.
"There's exactly 50 percent of the voters who like what the Republicans are doing, and 50 percent don't like it," he said.
Along with eliminating most of public workers bargaining rights, the law requires them to contribute more to their health care and pensions, changes that amount to an average 8 percent pay cut.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court could ultimately decide the fate of the new law.