GERMANTOWN, Wis. — The fistfight at the Short Branch Saloon in Neenah began after Dan Wintheiser, a union worker at a foundry, altered a yard sign promoting Wisconsin’s governor to read “I Can’t Stand Walker.”

Wintheiser said he tried to stop the punch-up between workers and managers that he set off at a May 30 retirement party. Still, it drove home that no matter what happens in today’s recall election pitting Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett against Republican Scott Walker, Wisconsin won’t greet the next day’s sunrise in a spirit of peace and unity.

“I just see the divide getting deeper and deeper,” said Wintheiser, 50. He said there was a “huge fight” over the recall at his dinner table — on Mothers’ Day.

While Americans have gone to the polls only twice to recall a governor, those votes didn’t carry the national significance of today’s election. Organized labor is trying to halt nationwide momentum from Walker’s collective-bargaining restrictions on public-employee unions.

Both parties see the election as a proxy for the presidential contest. And conservatives are embracing Walker as the standard-bearer for austerity and backing him with more than $30 million, most of it raised since January.

“We’re in a battle for freedom in this country,” Reince Priebus, a Wisconsin native and chairman of the Republican National Committee, told about 75 Walker supporters at a rally Sunday in Germantown. “We’re not only in a battle for the state of Wisconsin; we’re in a battle for the future of America.”

The recall effort that started last year after Walker pushed limits on unions through the Legislature has metamorphosed into a debate over the job climate and controlling the cost of government services. Most minds, according to polls, were made up long ago. Undecideds are a sliver of the electorate.

“This election, as we all know, will be determined by turnout,” said Sen. Herb Kohl, a Democrat who campaigned Monday with Barrett at a coffee shop in Oshkosh. “We’re fairly well evenly divided. That’s what Wisconsin is these days.”

Wisconsin, a hotbed of the early 20th century’s Progressive movement, is polarized. Voters recalled two Republican state senators last year of nine who were challenged. Walker will be up for an ouster vote along with Republican Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four state senators from their party.