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Viewpoint: Obama's March Madness strategy

March not only brings the most anticipated party and travel week of the school year to colleges, but also one of the biggest sports events in the nation: March Madness.

Obsession with tournament brackets spreads well beyond college students and alumni, and for the fourth year has even reached the president of the United States, whom ABC News called “America’s basketball-fan-in-chief.”

Last Tuesday, President Barack Obama released his bracket picks for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Unlike last year, he predicts a couple of No. 2 seeds, Ohio State and Missouri, to make it to the final four. Ultimately, Obama picked the Tar Heels to beat No. 1 seed Kentucky in the national title game.

Obama’s picks might disappoint some voters in the Beltway, since he chose North Carolina State to upset Georgetown and reach the Sweet 16. Others are rattled that he chose Vanderbilt to beat his alma mater, but he told The Huffington Post, “I will be rooting for Harvard, but it’s just too much of a stretch.” Both games he called correctly.

Many voters couldn’t care less who Obama picks to win in a basketball tournament, especially when unemployment and gas prices seem to be climbing, and they probably think, “Doesn’t he have better things to do?”

However, in terms of fighting for re-election, it seems Obama uses his March Madness bracket to continue to court the college-aged vote. During his first and now second campaign, Obama has raised millions in donations of less than $200, especially from younger voters, an amount his possible Republican opponents are struggling to match.

Those who contribute money to political campaigns are obviously much more invested in that candidate than those who merely (or don’t even bother to) vote. How much more, then, would college students, who are scraping by with ramen in their pantries and barely enough money in the bank to hold a checking account, have to support a candidate to justify donating even $10?

As silly or gimmicky as it might seem for Obama to pose for a photo in front of a huge poster that reads “Presidential Bracket” complete with the presidential seal, college sports fans instantly relate to him. All of a sudden, we get a glimpse into the life of an ordinary man who just happens to be the president. For a moment, he sheds all his World Leader-ness and becomes someone just like us, who sits on his couch and yells at referees and freaks out when his favorite team makes a game-winning shot.

After that, he becomes a real person who feels our hopes and disappointments not just in sports, but in life. Someone who perhaps is motivated by wanting to help instead of wanting more power.

Mitt Romney, who has had problems relating to voters, told ESPN he isn’t plugged in enough this year to fill out a bracket. Perhaps many will appreciate that he’s too plugged into his campaign to worry about basketball. Others, however, probably appreciate that Obama takes the time to do an activity so many of us little people love.

We say this not as an endorsement of Obama, but to point out what seems to be one strategy among many that he uses to court the vote of younger generations. With such a dramatic increase in college-aged voters in the 2008 election in support of Obama, his potential opponents should be getting creative and pulling out all the stops to get us to the booths.

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