People in the US state of Wisconsin are voting on whether or not to recall the state's governor.
Republican Scott Walker angered many voters with hefty budget cuts and could be kicked out two years before the end of his term.
Most opinion polls show Walker with a slight advantage over his Democratic challenger Tom Barrett, a former member of the US congress who was Walker's opponent in the 2010 governor's race.
If Walker surivives, it will give his party a huge boost in the run-up to the presidential elections later in the year.
The strength of President Barack Obama's bid for a second term faces a key test in the Wisconsin election to decide whether Walker, a hero of the deeply conservative Tea Party movement, should be removed before he completes his term.
The recall election against Walker, who would be only the third state leader in US history to be toppled in a voter uprising, has produced record-shattering campaign spending, the vast majority from conservative sources outside the state.
The political divisions virtually mirror sentiments nationwide.
Last winter, one million state residents signed a petition demanding the recall of Walker, whose gloves-off approach with public-sector unions - cutting benefits and ending most collective bargaining - polarised the state, spawned mass protests, and garnered national media attention.
Unlike most governors' races, the outcome in Wisconsin - located in the US Midwest region, an electoral battleground roughly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans - will be felt far beyond state borders.
The Walker recall vote may well have global implications, in that it is a test of the declining power of unions.
Both Republicans and Democrats know this, as each party has invested heavily in the vote, making Wisconsin a battleground.
Walker alone has raised more than $30m, more than even some presidential contenders.
Julie Wells, the forklift-driving grandmother who signed the recall measure, said: "Wisconsin was a kind of a test case for America.
"If we can fight back on a national level, then the rest of the world, I mean, we've seen it in Egypt, the rest of the people go, "We can do this, as a people we can stand up and fight back."
Labour movement roots
The effort to unseat Walker, who is just 17 months into a four-year term, is rooted in the state's labour union movement and the Democratic rank and file.
Both groups are angry over his budget-cutting policies and his moves to make unions for teachers, police and other public employees give up nearly all their collective bargaining rights.
That stance has unions across the US watching Tuesday's vote closely.
If Walker successfully defends his leadership, it would be a major boost for already highly motivated Tea Party voters, who want smaller government, lower deficits and tax cuts.
With the economy the top issue in the presidential election, a victory for Wisconsin conservatives would underscore Romney's strength nationwide.
He has endorsed budget- and tax-cutting tea party fiscal plans at the national level.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|