It's "Baracketology" time. For the fourth straight year, President Obama has filled out a men's college basketball tournament bracket, even filming the endeavor for ESPN. This go-round, the First Fan likes North Carolina to win it all over heavy favorite Kentucky. And because this is an election year, commentators are paying extra close attention to the president's picks, dissecting his every selection to see what it reveals about Obama and his campaign. Here, four takeaways:
1. Obama is eager to court North Carolina voters
Surprise, surprise, says Michael A. Memoli at The Chicago Tribune: Obama thinks North Carolina will win it all. That's surely no coincidence, considering that the Democratic National Convention will be held in North Carolina this summer, and that Obama only won the Tar Heel State by 0.4 percent in 2008. The president is sending a pretty clear message by opting for the "swing state over the deeply red state of Kentucky." Obama explained his choice by saying that UNC is an "older, more experienced team" than freshmen-heavy Kentucky. How perfect, says Dan Shanoff at The Awl. "Experience matters? Sounds like a campaign theme in the making."
2. Actually, he's pandering to all swing states
The president's picks "raise the question of whether up-for-grabs electoral votes are a quantifiable basketball statistic," says Amy Davidson at The New Yorker. Three of his Final Four selections — Ohio State, Missouri, and North Carolina — are universities in battleground states. Yes, Obama's entire bracket "is a masterpiece of harmless pandering," says Alex Altman at TIME. His selections in other "stray toss-up games" — New Mexico over Louisville; Iowa State over Connecticut — seem "subtly influenced by the electoral college map." Of the 32 teams Obama pegged to win at least one game, 19 are from battleground states — and the president has 11 of them making it to the Sweet 16, notes David Meeks at the Los Angeles Times.
3. He's managing voter expectations
Obama's historic 2008 victory was "one of the most impressive political Cinderella stories of all time," says Steve Kornacki at Salon. This year's tournament picks, on the other hand, in which Obama is mostly picking heavily-favored teams, represent a message to voters to stick with him even though he's no longer the underdog. In that way, his bracket is "a fitting microcosm of his presidency": "We were initially conditioned to expect boldness, imagination, and outside-the-box thinking, but by now we've realized that it's bland, utterly rational pragmatism that really drives him."
4. And showing voters he's both steady and bold
Obama's picks "are so vanilla they make Mitt Romney look wild," says Altman. His bracket only predicts two true upsets (Virginia Commonwealth over Wichita and North Carolina State over San Diego State), and "neither exactly goes out on a limb." But "there's something to be said for cool, analytical judgment, in both bracketology and politics," says Kornacki. It's a trait voters appreciate. Not every Obama pick is a sure bet, says Shanoff. "When it comes to picking a champion, Obama zigs." Kentucky is the overall national favorite, making the president's UNC prediction pretty gutsy.