The Blog

The Packer Faithful

Will John Kerry's "Lambert Field" slip cost him in Wisconsin?

4:00 PM, Sep 2, 2004 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

New York

"LAMBEAU!" Karl Rove grinned as he shouted the name of the Green Bay Packers legendary stadium. Rove was in an elevator at the Millennium Hotel in New York City after addressing the Wisconsin Republican delegation at breakfast this morning. As the doors of the elevator were closing, I asked him what he thought about "Lambert Field." That's what John Kerry called Lambeau in an appearance in Green Bay last week.

Other speakers brought up the Kerry gaffe unprompted. Representative Rob Portman (R-OH), Bush's closest ally in the House of Representatives, mocked Kerry as he sought to rally the dairy state delegates for the campaign's final two months. "These next 60 days are going to be exciting to you for another reason, too," said Portman. "I believe the Green Bay Vikings . . . under the leadership of Brett Fever . . . up there on the frozen whatever it is . . . at Lambert Field . . . they're going to win another title!"

Kerry's blunder is the kind of mistake that campaign reporters often use to demonstrate a larger point. (Remember George H.W. Bush and his inability to come up with the price of a gallon of milk? Or George W. Bush and his failure to name Pervez Musharraf as the president of Pakistan?) But Kerry's gaffe has gotten scant media attention. The newspapers and local television stations in Wisconsin have given him a pass. So has the national press corps. Charlie Sykes, who hosts a talk show in Milwaukee and is one of the smartest talk radio personalities in the nation, has kept the story alive for a week.

Perhaps not surprisingly, several Republicans I spoke to this morning think the episode, however silly, is revealing. "It just shows he doesn't understand us at all. He's out of touch," says Dean Achterberg, a community leader from Pewaukee. "I think he would be more fitting at a polo match than the all-American sport of football."

"How out of touch can you be to not know the name of one of the most renowned sports venues in America," says Rick Graber, state GOP chairman. "Particularly in Wisconsin, we're talking about a sacred place. You just gotta know that it's not Lambert Field."

"You can't be expected to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the whole country," says Rep. Portman, shaking his head. "But you do need to know the big things."

And just how big is Packer football in Wisconsin? Consider: A private citizen spent $1,800 to put a billboard on Interstate 43 to criticize Packer head coach Mike Sherman for a soft defense that allowed the Philadelphia Eagles to convert a fourth-and-26 on their way to winning a divisional playoff game last year. A farmer in Carlsville, Wisconsin, has created a Packer corn maze--complete with an oversized "G" and three football players, including Brett Favre. Visitors can walk nearly eight miles of twisting pathways.

Kerry, at least until last week, voiced an understanding of Packer hysteria. When he spoke at a rally across the street from Lambeau Field in May, Kerry thanked organizers for just letting him get close to the hallowed stadium. In an appearance in February, Kerry spoke fondly of the tradition of Packer football and called Lambeau football's "Mecca."

Tommy Thompson, former Wisconsin governor and current secretary of Health and Human Services, thinks Kerry's Lambeau Lapse could influence voters on November 2. "Just about every sports fan knows that Lambeau Field is the most hallowed ground in all of professional sports," said Thompson, on the convention floor shortly before Vice President Dick Cheney spoke to the crowd. "To call it 'Lambert Field' is in and of itself bad enough to get defeated in an election in Wisconsin."

Rick Graber, Wisconsin's GOP chairman, says the party will remind voters about Lambert Field even if the press continues to ignore it. "Trust me. The Republican party in Wisconsin will be saying something about this from time to time between now and November 2."

Stephen F. Hayes is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.