Unless you have lived in Wisconsin, you can't fully understand the way the Green Bay Packers affect the state.
I was born there. Raised there. In many ways my heart is still there. Let me say this: the Packers are everything. The Packers are the economy. The Packers are what you think about constantly. Wisconsinites refer to the Packers as "we" when talking about the team in a sentence. There are two seasons in Wisconsin: Packers season and the offseason. Pastors know that they have until about 11:30 on Sunday mornings to wrap up their sermons, or attendance will suffer from September to February. On a recent trip home for the Packers home opener, fans were tailgating by 10 am. The game started at 3pm. Fanaticism in Wisconsin is unlike anywhere else.
Why do I mention all this? Not to be nostalgic, but rather to frame what is now a huge possibility: Barack Obama could win Wisconsin because of the horrendous call by the replacement officials on Monday that robbed the Packers of a win. (If you need a refresher, click here.)
Let me explain.
You'll remember that Wisconsin was ground zero for the battle over union benefits in 2010. In fact, the reforms being pushed by Wis. Gov. Scott Walker included changes to pensions. That's important. Why? Because as our own Becket Adams pointed out in a piece this morning, the largest disagreement between the "real" NFL refs and the league is over pension reform. Make a mental note of that, we'll come back to it later.
On Tuesday morning while checking my Facebook for reaction to the game, a common theme emerged: Many of my family and friends were calling on the NFL to give the refs what they wanted. "Just pay the refs," was the common line. And 100% of the outrage was aimed at the NFL, not the real refs who are demanding more.
In fact, the calls for the real refs to get back on the job has swept the nation. Celebrities are demanding the ousting of the replacements. Players are irate at the NFL's head honchos. And even staunch Wisconsin conservatives are clamoring for authentic zebras. Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan mocked the replacements yesterday and Gov. Walker demanded a change in a tweet:
After catching a few hours of sleep, the #Packers game is still just as painful. #Returntherealrefs
— Governor Walker (@GovWalker) September 25, 2012
Now Walker's office has said the tweet wasn't a commentary on unions, just the words of an upset fan who wants to uphold the integrity of the game. But that hasn't stopped the media from spinning it the other way. Just look at the front page of the Huffington Post from Wednesday morning:
Others such as the liberal Think Progress are already seizing on it, too:
And frankly, it's working. The sense I'm getting from back home is decidedly anti-NFL and pro-union. If the NFL wasn't so greedy, the sentiment goes, the Packers wouldn't have gotten screwed. And that's in a state that Real Clear Politics says, as of now, is only "leaning Obama" (Wisconsin is generally a Democratic stronghold).
Which brings me to this question and my early point about the pensions: If the Democrats (and the media) can draw a comparison with what happened on Monday night with current Republican policies, and can capitalize on the outrage that all Wisconsinites are feeling right now, isn't Wisconsin (which many consider a toss-up) at risk of going for Barack Obama? Think about it this way: If the narrative successfully becomes about the dire consequences of the powerful trying to screw the little union guys over pensions, which way will Wisconsin voters go?
I think the answer is found in a personal story.
My wife's name is Brett. If you're a Packers fan and reading this, you know exactly what my family thought when I introduced her to them. "She must be great," my brother told me, "because she has one of the greatest names ever." See, back then, Brett Favre was still an idol in Wisconsin, slinging passes like a guy crossing something off his bucket list. When they heard I was dating, and then eventually marrying, someone with something as simple as the same name as our hall-of-famer, they were elated.
Like I said, the Packers are the first thing on the minds of every Wisconsinite. It's the lens through which we see the world.
Come November, the question will be how that lens colors their ballots.