America’s First Fan was in the front row as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament tipped off Tuesday.
With his Republican rivals taking their shots in a pair of southern presidential primaries, President Obama made a fast break from Washington to Dayton, Ohio, where he took in the first play-in game of the tournament between Western Kentucky and Mississippi Valley State.
Obama brought a buddy, British Prime Minister David Cameron, who had arrived in the nation’s capital hours earlier for a two-day visit. After arriving at Dayton Arena, the president, decked out in a gingham-check button-down and dark slacks, and Cameron, in a navy polo shirt, sat behind a basket and munched on hot dogs with staff and fellow politicians, including Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R).
“Both teams are shooting terribly. Maybe it’s nerves,” Obama observed at halftime, with Mississippi Valley leading 23-19, after CBS Sports analyst Clark Kellogg asked him to break down the action.
A dedicated pickup game player who sometimes coaches his daughter Sasha’s youth team, Obama sounded like he was making a pitch to replace Kellogg in future broadcasts.
“Some of this is just going to be somebody getting a few open shots outside to open things up,” Obama said matter-of-factly. “It’s real clogged in the middle.”
Cameron, who was watching his first hoops contest, chimed in with a less textured analysis: “It’s fast and furious. It’s hard to follow who has done what wrong. He’s giving me some tips.”
“He’s going to teach me cricket,” Obama replied. Cameron was such a rookie to American sports traditions that he put ketchup, sans yellow mustard, on his hot dog. At least he washed it down with an all-American Coca-Cola.
Of course, Obama’s motive for attending the game wasn’t purely to feed his basketball jones or give his buddy Cameron a ride on Air Force One, the first foreign leader to ride with Obama on the big bird. The president also wanted to make an appearance in a key electoral swing state one week after former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney won Ohio’s GOP primary.
“Sometimes when we have foreign visitors they’re only visiting the coasts. They go to New York, they go to Washington, they go to Los Angeles,” Obama told Kellogg. “But the heartland is what it’s all about.”
Obama then gave a shout out to his law school alma mater, Harvard, which made the NCAA tournament. And Cameron, an equally wily politician, got in his own plug — for the Summer Olympics in London in late July. “Come and see the Olympics and come and stay,” Cameron said.
That gave Obama an opening for a little trash talk.
“Should be a pretty good basketball team showing up,” the president promised, referring to Team USA.