It's a lost prize that stings for Republicans: How could Mitt Romney lose Wisconsin just five months after Gov. Scott Walker won it?
While nationally Romney barely surpassed GOP nominee John McCain's popular vote total in 2008 ( 58.6 million votes for Romney vs 58.3 million for McCain), in Wisconsin, the former Massachusetts governor surged past McCain by about 11 percentage points.
Romney had more votes than McCain in the bright red suburban Milwaukee counties. He even gained votes in dark-blue Milwaukee and Dane counties.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama didn't perform as well as he did in Wisconsin in 2008 — his vote total was 4.4 percentage points less Tuesday than it was in 2008.
But statewide, neither Romney's gains nor Obama's losses were deep enough to change the outcome of the election.
And when you compare it to the vote count in the June gubernatorial recall election, Obama significantly outperformed Democrat Tom Barrett, while Romney only did slightly better than Walker.
The question of how Romney lost will be analyzed for months and years to come by political pundits and the media, but here are some reasons, according to an analysis by Patch and an interview with Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette University Law School poll:
Romney didn't make enough gains over Walker: Although about a half million more residents voted for president than did in the June gubernatorial recall election, Romney only received about 73,000 more votes than Walker.
Take Waukesha County, for example. Walker won the county by 45 percentage points, outpolling Tom Barrett there by about 96,000 votes. Romney won Waukesha County by 35 percentage points, beating Obama by about 84,000 votes.
Contrast that with Milwaukee County: Despite his statewide win, Walker lost that deep-blue county to Barrett by 27 percentage points, or about 107,000 votes. But Romney did worse than Walker in Milwaukee County, losing to Obama by 34 percentage points, or about 167,000 votes.
Even in counties that were red, they weren't red enough: Larger, northern counties - such as Brown and Marathon - went for Romney, but not by enough gains to deliver fatal blows to Obama.
"You didn't see big Romney wins, you just saw minimal wins," Franklin said. "The Obama campaign benefited from that by not having big net Republican votes there that they had to then make up somewhere else. Instead, they could get along pretty well."
Walker won Brown County, 60 percent to 40 percent in June; Romney just barely won it - 50.4 percent to 48.6 percent over Obama. In Marathon County, Romney won it 52.5 to 46.4 over Obama, with about 4,000 more votes than Obama. But in June, Marathon County voters gave Walker nearly 15,000 more votes than they gave Barrett.
"You have got to be awfully happy to only lose by 4,000 in a county that was lost by 15,000 by your party in an election just five months ago," Franklin said.
Many northern and western counties swung from Walker to Obama: Counties that had a history of voting Democratic, including re-electing Jim Doyle as governor in 2006, suddenly swung hard red, voting for Walker over Barrett, and Republican Ron Johnson over Democrat Russ Feingold for U.S. Senate in 2010, and again for Walker in the June recall, Franklin said.
"If you look at the map today, there are still several red counties in that (northern and western side) region, but they're not that many and there are many blue counties," he said.
"The Obama people seemed to do relatively well by holding down their losses in some Republican areas and doing better in the west and the north than Barrett in either 2010 or the recall," Franklin said.
Obama's lead over McCain in 2008 was too steep to reverse: In 2008 Obama crushed McCain by 14 points, about 415,000 votes.
In Tuesday's election, Romney surged ahead of McCain, adding about 11 percentage points or more than 149,600 votes in Wisconsin. At the same time, Obama lost ground, ratcheting down his 2008 total by about 74,000 votes - or 4.4 percentage points.
Even that combination just wasn't enough.
Vote totals in key counties in recent elections
'08 presidential raceGubernatorial recall'12 presidential raceCountyObama (D) McCain (R) Barrett (D) Walker (R) Obama (D) Romney (R) Milwaukee 319,819 149,445 250,476 143455 320,654 153,635 Dane 205,984 73,065 176,407 77,595 215,389 83,459 Ozaukee 20,579 32,172 14,095 34,303 19,075 35,991 Waukesha 85,339 145,152 58,234 154,316 77,617 161,567 Washington 25,719 47,729 16,634 52,306 23,136 54,709 Racine 53,408 45,954 40,287 45,526 52,887 49,1736-county total
710,848 493,517 556,133 507,501 708,758 538,534Source: Wisconsin Government Accountability Board; Associated Press