When Packers play, campaigning takes a back seat

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — In a season where political campaigns disagree on almost everything, candidates have found common ground on one point: Never disturb a Wisconsin voter when a Packers game is on.

Over the past few months, the campaigns' armies of volunteers have been nearly impossible to avoid. They've made countless phone calls and knocked on doors from one end of the state to the other. But the phones and doorbells all go quiet when Green Bay takes the field.

"If you want to lose votes, call somebody during a Packer game and talk politics," said Tommy Thompson, the Republican candidate in a hotly contested U.S. Senate race. "It is a dumb move."

Since the start of the NFL season, Thompson and Democratic opponent Tammy Baldwin have instructed their campaigns to suspend voter outreach during a game. Even the presidential campaigns for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney stop the phone calls and door knocks in Wisconsin during a Green Bay game — the only NFL state where the campaigns make that concession.

That doesn't mean the candidates take a three-hour timeout. They might attend tailgate parties with fans or relax with their staffs, while volunteers take a break from making calls to assemble packets and enter data into computers.

Thompson stopped by Lambeau Field before Sunday's game, where supporters in Packers sweatshirts and green and white jerseys crowded around him to shake his hand and pose for pictures.

He was generally well received, but 31-year-old Dave Schommer of Green Bay looked up from the grill where he was serving up burgers and brats to shout, "Keep politics out of football!"

"This is fun," he told a reporter afterward, gesturing to the swarms of tailgating fans around him. "There is nothing fun about politics. I get why they come here, but I just don't like it."

The Packers have long figured into politics, especially in recent races.

Packers star Charles Woodson campaigned for Obama at a rally in Green Bay last week, and Obama thanked the crowd for giving such a warm welcome to a fan of the rival Chicago Bears. The following day, former Packer quarterback Bart Starr stumped for Romney in the Milwaukee area, telling supporters Romney has the sort of character and integrity that coach Vince Lombardi would respect.

Republican vice presidential contender Paul Ryan has also touted his Green Bay loyalties, and he appeared at a separate Lambeau rally Sunday.

All managed to avoid Packers-related gaffes, unlike Democratic Sen. John Kerry. During his presidential bid in 2004, Kerry mistakenly referred to Lambeau Field, hallowed ground to Packers fans, as Lambert Field.

While Thompson met with fans Sunday, Baldwin gathered with campaign volunteers in Milwaukee and watched part of the game with staffers. With a Packers scarf hanging around her neck, she clapped politely when Aaron Rodgers connected with James Jones on a 28-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter to give Green Bay a 21-7 lead over the Arizona Cardinals. Green Bay eventually won, 31-17.

About 25 Baldwin staffers ate sandwiches and crowded around the game, giving themselves and potential voters a break from campaigning.

"The second it's over you can get back out on the streets, knock on doors, get back on the phones again," Baldwin said.

While Packers fans enjoy their reprieve, football fans in other swing states might be looking to Wisconsin with envy. The Obama and Romney campaigns still make calls in Ohio when Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns games are on, and in Florida while the Miami Dolphins are playing.

"Wisconsinites take their Packers very seriously," said Nicole Tieman, the Wisconsin communications director for the Republican National Committee. "Calling somebody that is a Packers fan during a Packers game is a great way not to get a vote."

Some Packers fans said those concerns might be overblown, even though they were grateful for the three-hour break.

Pat Wickert, 59, of New Berlin, said she was so determined to vote for Obama that she wouldn't change her vote just because of annoying phone calls. She said when a game is on she simply screens her calls, and she wouldn't give much time to people who knock on her door.

Jeff Johnson, a 59-year-old from Beloit, appreciates not having the game interrupted by politicking. But he also said he's so eager to get rid of Obama that game interruptions wouldn't be enough to get him to change his vote.

Still, the campaigns know that might not be the case for everyone.

"That is an always-and-forever, hard-and-fast rule: Thou shalt not knock on people's doors or call them on the phones from kickoff (of a Packers game) until the clock reads zero," said Joe Zepecki, a spokesman for Obama's Wisconsin campaign. "It's been that way in Wisconsin for as long as I can remember."

___

Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

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Wisconsin (change)

 
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Wisconsin’s population totaled 5,686,986, a 6.0% increase over the 2000 U.S. Census count of 5,363,715. (Source: Wisconsin Blue Book)
 
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