"This is not an experience many politicians want to go through," Podhorzer said.
Still, the turnout effort fell short of producing the unions' hoped-for results. Exit polls showed voters from union households breaking 63 percent to 37 percent for Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. That's virtually the same as in the 2010 governor's race, even though union households represented a bigger greater share of the electorate this time.
Walker had convinced his Republican-dominated Legislature that limiting collective bargaining rights and making union members pay more for their health coverage and pensions was necessary to plug a $3.6 billion state budget shortfall. Labor leaders claimed he also wanted to cripple unions by banning automatic dues deduction for public employees.
Since the new Wisconsin law took effect, the state's second largest union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, has lost nearly half of its members in the state, according to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press. The documents show that between March 2011 and February 2012, Wisconsin membership in AFSCME dropped from 63,577 to 34,942.
As national union membership has dwindled to just 11.8 percent of the workforce, the one growth area in recent years has been among teachers, firefighters and other government employees. Public sector workers now represent more than half of all union members.
Some governors may be reluctant to create the kind of stark divisions seen in Wisconsin, said Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
"Are these governors going to campaign on more attacks on public sector unions?" Lichtenstein said. "I don't think they are. It's clear they got a lot of pushback, it's divisive. It's difficult to be a governor with complete polarization."
Russo, the labor professor at Youngstown State, said the lesson of Wisconsin may be to take on unions in smaller steps rather than through sweeping measures as in Ohio and Wisconsin.
Michigan Rep. Mike Shirkey, a Republican who backed a new law prohibiting schools from deducting union dues from employees' paychecks, said the Walker victory provides "additional spine-stiffening" for lawmakers looking at challenging union leaders.
"It basically puts some wind in our sail to continue down the road that we've already been on to advance free-market principles across the economy of Michigan, including in the behavior and performance of union leadership," Shirkey said.
Unions in Michigan are already trying to gather enough signatures to put a measure on the ballot this November that would amend the state constitution to prohibit the right-to-work laws they fear Republicans will pass.
In New Hampshire, Republicans were unable to override Democratic Gov. John Lynch's veto of a right-to-work measure last year. But Lynch is not running for re-election this year, and a victory by conservatives could revive that effort. New Hampshire House Speaker William O'Brien "will continue to prioritize right-to-work legislation," spokeswoman Shannon Shutts said.
In New Mexico, Walker's victory could embolden Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's effort to limit that state's collective bargaining law. Through legal action, she has won control of a board that oversees public worker contract disputes.
And in Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad, two seats shy of a GOP lock on the Legislature, said he would propose requiring state workers, some who pay nothing toward their health insurance, to shoulder 20 percent of their premiums.
"Every state's situation's a little different ... but we kind of follow what each other is doing, and I've been inspired," Branstad said.
Associated Press writers David A. Lieb in Jefferson City, Mo., Thomas Beaumont in Milwaukee and Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.