In the movie “Moneyball,” Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A’s, is determined to build a winning baseball team. But he’s just lost his top player and doesn’t have the money to lure big stars to his team. Unwilling to throw in the towel, Beane instead hires Peter Brand, a Yale Economics grad who gives Bean just what he’s looking for: a new way to think about winning.
Brand tells Beane that his team isn’t winning because he’s not getting the right players signed on:
"There is an epidemic failure within the game to understand what is really happening and this leads people who run major league baseball teams to misjudge their players and mismanage their teams…. People who run ball clubs, they think in terms of buying players. Your goal shouldn't be to buy players. Your goal should be to buy wins and in order to buy wins, you need to buy your run. Baseball thinking is medieval, they are asking all the wrong questions and if I say it to anybody I'm...I'm ostracized."
Wisconsin Democrats could use their own Peter Brand right now. We want to defeat Walker in the recall election, but we first need to get a candidate who can win. This might be more difficult than we had imagined. See, while it’s not unusual to have heated primary elections, there is nothing usual about our current primary.
The facts are sobering. Republicans are placing fake candidates on primary ballots. Walker has loads of money. Republicans have veered so far to the right that any moderate voices are being trampled. Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature have passed laws that relaxed environmental regulation, defunded education, stripped union workers of their rights, favored big business, rearranged voting districts, and reversed women’s rights. They’ve managed to shove through these bills at lightning speed with almost no input from the public.
These facts must remain at the forefront of our decision making. Who we elect to be our Democratic gubernatorial nominee must be able to win. But these are extraordinary circumstances, and we cannot count on the passion we saw during the Madison protests and the recall signature petition. Our stark reality is that Wisconsin is a divided state; Walker has strong supporters who believe in him. And they will vote.
So who we elect on May 8 is important. Don’t be fooled by the hyped-up supporters pulling for one candidate over the other. Democrats will rally around whoever is chosen. But it’s not the Democrats we need to rally—it’s moderates. If we want to win, we need those who cast their vote for Walker to see this recall as an opportunity to “right a wrong.” We need voters who are angry at the lack of governmental transparency. We need those who are frustrated with unions but value education. We need those who may not always agree with the Democratic platform.
Dave Obey has repeatedly said that this recall election is an uphill battle for Democrats. We cannot take anything for granted. Like it or not, it’s time we start thinking like Peter Brand. A political Brand would tell us to set aside our intuition—that feeling we have deep inside that tells us one candidate is better than another—and look at the facts.
To date we have four candidates: Kathleen Falk, Kathleen Vinehout, Doug La Follette, and Tom Barrett. Each candidate has his or her strengths, experiences, and personal characteristics that appeal to voters. But we cannot rely on those qualities if we want to win. Instead, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions. Which candidate has the most organized political team? Which candidate has the most campaign money? And perhaps most importantly of all, which candidate will attract independent and moderate voters?
Wisconsin Democrats need to rip a page from Billy Beane’s playbook and find a new way to think about this primary. Rallying the troops is old-school thinking that won’t guarantee our win. Banging the union drum won’t draw in new voters. Crying foul against big business won’t endear us to unemployed workers. Emotion won’t defeat Walker.
Now is the time to tuck away intuition and look objectively at issues that are important to moderate voters. It’s time to find new ways to connect with voters who might not always agree with us.But with only one month until the primary, we have to act now. We have to act before we’re out of the one thing we can’t get back: time.