The Magazine

The Battle for Wisconsin

From the September 6, 2004 issue: A Brahmin among the Cheeseheads.

Sep 6, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 48 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Green Bay

JOHN KERRY may have lost Wisconsin last Wednesday. Lambeau Field is arguably the most historic sporting venue in the United States. Opposing players long for the opportunity to play there. It's the Mecca of American football. Every American male over the age of 4 can finish the description of the field made famous by the pseudo-thunderous voice of ESPN's Chris Berman: "The Frooooooozen Tunnnnnnnndra of . . . "

Lambert Field?

That's what John Kerry called it during a stop last week in Green Bay. Lambert Field.

We go now to Scott Stanzel, spokesman for the Bush campaign. "What can you expect from a guy who probably thinks the phrase 'the frozen tundra of Lambeau' is something on the menu in an expensive French restaurant full of foreign leaders?"

To give you some idea of how important Green Bay Packer football is to Wisconsin, consider this:

While most NFL teams struggle to fill the stands for preseason games, the Packers sold out Lambeau Field for an intra-squad scrimmage in which tackling was prohibited.

Every summer, fans ring Clark Hinkle practice field 20-deep to watch the Packers' training camp.

After the Packers won the Super Bowl in 1996, 43.2 percent of males born in the state were named Brett.

I made that last one up, but there sure seem to be a disproportionate number of 8-year-old Bretts running around the state. (Named after quarterback Brett Favre, for you Chicago Bears fans.)

Lambeau Field is so important to the state, and Packers fans so representative of likely Wisconsin voters, that that's where I chose to travel nine days before Kerry's gaffe to conduct primary research on the state of the presidential race in Wisconsin.

I started at the Stadium View Sports Bar and Grille, where 24 oz. Miller Lites were selling for an outrageous $6.00. (They came with free green-and-gold New Orleans-style beads, however.) New digital voice-recorder in hand, I approached a busty young woman wearing a cheese-bra--support made out of the foamy, faux-cheese material Packers fans often wear in triangles on their heads. She was not interested in talking about politics.

I had more luck with Brian Budsberg, a retired insurance salesman from Waupaca. Budsberg, accompanied by his brother from Texas, railed against the media's misreporting of Iraq. They're both for Bush.

So was Jose Cornejo from Sussex. Cornejo is a self-described Reagan Democrat who has voted Republican since 1980. He and his wife are voting for Bush.

Over the course of the evening, I interviewed perhaps two dozen voters. Each one claimed to be a Bush supporter. The exception was Linda Marquardt, a graphic designer from Green Bay, who readily agreed to be interviewed when I ordered two more Miller Lites from the Beer Man. (It's capitalized in Wisconsin.) Marquardt was an impressive multitasker. As the third quarter began, she answered questions about the race, participated in the wave, and watched the game. "I'm an anti-Bush voter. I would have voted for whoever the Democrats put up." The Packers lost.

I returned to the Stadium View after the game and struck up a conversation with Trevor Ward, an unemployed bartender from La Crosse, and a friend wearing a hat featuring a ten-point buck devouring a foamy, yellow wedge of cheese. The friend, perhaps understandably, refused to be identified. Ward, too, is a Bush supporter. I asked him why:

WARD: I'm going to vote for Bush because once I become successful, which I plan on doing, I want my money.

ME: But you're not successful yet?

WARD: Not yet. . . . I'm unemployed and I'm going to vote for Bush.

Ward and the deer-cheese guy were good company, so we spent a considerable amount of time discussing how Ward might become successful. But in the end we returned to the Packers and politics.

ME: If Favre endorsed one candidate or the other, do you think it matters?

WARD: It would carry the state.

ME: You think it would?

WARD: I know it would.

ME: Who would he support?

WARD: I don't know Brett Favre personally, but a good friend that I hung with every year knows Jeff Favre, his brother. They're huge into hunting. They like their guns, and I'm sure Brett likes his money. So I would say like 8-out-of-10--I don't know Brett personally--but there's an 80 percent chance he's definitely Republican. And if he were to say it, it would definitely carry the state.