Swing State Bracketology: Who Should Obama Pick in Tournament?

Mar 12, 2012 5:44pm

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We all know Obama will pick his brackets with ESPN’s Andy Katz tomorrow.

And if the past is and precedent, the sports fan-in-chief has a lot of sports knowledge he’ll bring to the table, although last year the nation’s top Democrat had a very conservative bracket. He tends to watch ESPN when he watches TV, after all, as he told a supporter recently.

The NCAA tournament is a confounding thing with Cinderella stories and upsets and the winner of the office pool is as likely to have the basketball chops of a pet beagle as they are to be a bona fide sports junky.

So, from a nakedly political standpoint, who should Obama pick?

We’re not talking who will win, but which picks are the best nakedly political choices? He needs to win Florida, sure. But much has also been made of the Obama campaign’s attempts to hold on to his 2008 victory in Virginia.

Z. Byron Wolf’s “Swing State Bracket”:

For me, swing states were key. And the closer the margin in 2008, the more weight a team got. Thus, Florida beat Virginia in the first round. The vote was closer in 2008 in Florida than was it was in Virginia.

But it was closest of all in places like North Carolina and Indiana. Indiana seems like a bigger long shot this go-round  for the president. So Duke beats Notre Dame in the third round.

There are some places where it’ll be red state vs. blue state. Texas, for instance, seems like it is going to be red. Vermont is going to be blue. At that point, perhaps Obama should go with a rally the base pick. Vermont. In red state vs. red state – Southern Mississippi vs. Kansas State, for instance – Obama has little chance of winning either state. He came slightly closer to winning Mississippi in 2008. Southern Miss.

For me, its an all North Carolina Final Four. Given national appeal of teams, you still have Duke and North Carolina in the finals. But going on size of school and alumni base, UNC would win.

So make your own criteria, write down the picks, take a pic, and we’ll put some up. A paragraph or two of justification would be welcomed and printed in the blog that accompanies these.

See main image above.

Amy Walter’s “Swing State Bracket”:

Forget Ohio and Florida, President Obama’s path to re-election runs through North Carolina and Virginia.

Obama can lose both of those electoral power-houses  of Ohio and Florida in November and still end up with 296 electoral votes – 26 more than the 270 needed to win.

It just means he’s got to win Virginia and North Carolina. Oh, and  Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wisconsin too.

Thus, my Elite Eight: Colorado, Wisconsin, New Mexico, VCU and UNC. UNLV didn’t make it because they had to face Colorado in the first round. Picking Colorado  was a tough call, but it has more electoral votes than Nevada. And, Obama will have Sen. Harry Reid’s machine pulling out votes for him in Vegas. There’s no such Gov. Hickenlooper “machine” in Colorado.

In the end, VCU (Virginia), Florida (hey, they do have 29 Electoral votes – can’t total ignore them), UNC and Wisconsin make it to my Final Four.

The championship game is between VCU and UNC, with the Tarheels coming out on top. Given the amount of time and energy the Obama campaign has put into North Carolina, it’s clear that they’d like a victory there more than just about anywhere else in the country.

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Karen Travers, ABC News Correspondent:

This may be the only bracket that has Xavier in the Final Four – but the Musketeers hail from that critical battleground state of Ohio.

My bracketology logic came down to pick the school from the state that President Obama most wants to win in his re-election bid. So I have 15-seed Detroit with a big upset over Kansas and a very heavy emphasis on swing state schools. Congratulations top and low seeds from Florida, Michigan, Ohio and North Carolina….you are going far this March.

SOUTH REGIONAL: The mighty Musketeers of Xavier over Iowa State. Obama wants to win Ohio so badly he’ll even pull for the alma mater of House Speaker John Boehner. Yes, Duke is also from a swing state, but let’s be honest, what true Carolinians are actually Duke fans? (See the Midwest bracket for the Tar Heels)

WEST REGIONAL: Florida over Michigan State in a really tough test of battlegrounds. I have Davidson (from North Carolina) and Marquette (Wisconsin) each winning two games but ultimately it’s the big schools that will meet with a ticket to the Final Four on the line.

EAST REGIONAL: “THE” Ohio State University Buckeyes over Wisconsin and Bucky Badger. This was a tricky bracket. I have Harvard winning a game – happy Harvard alums may mean more campaign cash for their classmate Barack Obama. I have Cincinnati losing the Battle of Ohio to the Buckeyes and Wisconsin topping Syracuse (nobody wants to see a run for the Orange and given their traitorous leap to the ACC, they are a school without a region and earn President Obama no votes)

MIDWEST REGIONAL: A Tar Heel state showdown  – North Carolina over NC State for the Final Four bid. The Tar Heels will get past S. Florida to meet the Wolfpack in the regional final, after NC State beats Detroit. Obama can skip putting Detroit into the finals because he has Vice President Biden out there touting recovery of the auto industry.

Wild card: Georgetown will win one game because President Obama will want to smooth over relations with the Catholic university after the birth control flap.

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Matthew Jaffe, ABC News and Univision Correspondent:

SOUTH: It pains me to say it but Duke comes out on top in the South. The Blue Devils outlast Xavier in a tight second-round matchup – something that may actually happen – before beating Colorado in the Sweet 16. Virginia Commonwealth makes a run to the Elite Eight, but falls short against the huge emphasis the Obama campaign has placed on winning in North Carolina. A warning: this could be a recurring theme as we play this out…

WEST: Another North Carolina school – Davidson – makes some noise here, but Michigan State springs a surprise since Obama won’t want to lose Romney’s native state. That’s right, we’re assuming the Michigan native is the GOP nominee. In the bottom half of the bracket, another Midwest powerhouse – Marquette, from Wisconsin – falls short against Florida. The Gators go on to knock off the Spartans for a trip to the Final Four, with the Sunshine State simply proving too strong in the end.

EAST: UNC-Asheville becomes the first 16-seed to knock off a 1-seed as New York is no match for North Carolina – and, as a Georgetown alum, it thrills me to no end to see Syracuse make an early exit. Unfortunately for the kids from Carolina, Wisconsin ultimately ends their Cinderella story in the Sweet 16. Look, there’s only so much Carolina one tourney can have. The rest of the region has a distinct Buckeye State flavor, with Ohio State eliminating Cincinnati for the right to face the Badgers. The Wisconsin-Ohio State matchup – no surprise here – goes to the Buckeyes.

MIDWEST: If the state of Ohio dominated the East bracket, North Carolina does so in the Midwest – both the state and the school. Top-seeded UNC easily bests Creighton and Temple in the top half of the bracket, while North Carolina State advances to the Sweet 16 in the lower half. It is there, however, that the Wolfpack fall to the 15-seed Detroit. Earlier in the tourney Michigan fell short in the West to Florida – and Michigan again loses here to North Carolina. As for my Hoyas, they make a first-round exit to Belmont of Tennessee. Let’s hope this doesn’t actually happen.

FINAL FOUR: North Carolina – and Tobacco Road – are well represented in New Orleans as both the Blue Devils and Tar Heels do their part. But Duke can’t get past Florida, mainly because I just can’t stomach the thought of more Duke success, imaginary or not. In the other matchup, North Carolina is more successful, defeating Ohio State. Having now vanquished schools from states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio on its road to the title game, North Carolina wins it all by beating Florida. So as luck would have it, my Swing State bracket has the same winner as my actual one – now I just need to hope that the real bracket will follow suit…

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Chris Good, ABC Political Unit:

Here you have it: A bracket of pandering, rife with unabashed homerism. A Final Four of Favoritism sends a message that Obama wouldn’t let Detroit go bankrupt and gives nods to two critical swing states and a Jesuit university (where administrators may or may not be reviewing new student and employee insurance plans) to soothe Catholic tensions.

South regional: Duke exits early, in a slight to GOP booster and Obama critic Coach K. Ohio-based Xavier loses to the state university in a more vulnerable swing state. Winner: Indiana

West regional: In a nod to Colorado’s non-Boulder voters, Colorado State makes the Sweet Sixteen. Pandering to Michigan State fans would be nice, but Obama carried Michigan by 16 percent in 2008 and concludes he’s got bigger problems in the Catholic community, picking Saint Louis University. Why not other Jesuit schools, like Xavier or Georgetown? SLU is piloted by Rick Majerus, who in 2008 found himself in trouble with school bosses for making comments about abortion and stem-cell research at a Hillary Clinton rally. Obama should pick SLU as a backhanded compliment to the diocese, reminding Midwestern Catholics–particularly women–that it’s okay to vote Democrat. Winner: Saint Louis

East regional: It’s fine to have gone to Harvard and know what arugula is. Plus, Obama needs the donations of his high-rolling Crimson brethren…but not as much as he needs Florida’s 27 Electoral College votes. Winner: Florida State

Midwest regional: . In a moment of sheer political vanity, Obama should shun the UNC team he scrimmaged with before the last election in favor of mid-major squad Ohio University, realizing that while campaign manager Jim Messina’s “New South” map is ambitious, he’ll need to protect Midwest strongholds first. Wanting badly to please voters in Indiana, Obama could initially picks Purdue in the first round…and then slowly realizes his coup de grace of Bracketological entreaties, his ultimate jab at to Mitt “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” Romney. Winner: Detroit

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Elizabeth Hartfield, ABC Political Unit:

I chose Virginia, Duke, UNC and Ohio as my final four. Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio are key swing states for Obama, and it behooves him to include all three locations in this bracket. Though Ohio State is a larger school than Ohio University, there was no path to a final four with Ohio and UNC that included using Ohio State, so I opted for Ohio University, believing that simply including Duke, which is a private college, did not suffice for proper North Carolina representation. That same logic applied when I selected UNC over Duke for the final championship game. Ultimately I chose Ohio over Virginia because there is a Democratic path to victory which does not include Virginia, and the Obama campaign has so far made Ohio a strong priority in their re-election campaign. Ultimately though the win went to UNC. After all, the Democrats are obviously gunning very hard for the state.

Disclaimer: I know nothing about basketball, so I have no concept of whether or not these teams are strong picks in that sense.

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George Sanchez, ABC News Assignment Editor

Syracuse the top seed?  Who cares!  The state of NY has been blue for generations.  So UNC-Asheville is a natural pick for a major upset in the East bracket.  Then there’s reality.  UNC-Asheville will probably bow out to Wisconsin, a strong basketball program (and a key electoral state).  But no one expects the Jared Sullinger-led Ohio State Buckeyes to lose to Cincinnati or Wisconsin.  Look for Ohio State to dominate the Final Four (and the Electoral College) stage this year.

The Buckeyes have stiff competition, though.  The Michigan Wolverines are the cardiac kids of college basketball.  They’ve come on strong in the last few weeks with improbable victories (kinda like the state’s auto industry).  Look for the Wolverines to plow through the Midwest bracket.  But there’s some heated interstate rivalry from Lansing.  The Michigan State Spartans are the top seed in the West.  This could be their year.  Yes, they could struggle against Florida (and its “senior”-laden roster of voters).  But I’m picking the Spartans.

It’s tempting to ignore the South bracket since Democrats don’t do very well down there.  But wait there’s the all-important state of Colorado!  The Buffaloes smell upset against Duke & New Mexico State.  So look for Colorado to take its glass slipper to New Orleans.

But in the end, it’s all about Rustbelt.  Michigan State and Ohio State.  Michigan State is a great story.  But I think Ohio State has something to prove.

Congratulations Buckeye Nation.

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