It is almost time for President Obama to start ramping up the engines for the run to November. As the Republicans twist back and forth between Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and other challengers, the Democrats have stood on the sidelines waiting their turn to start moving against whomever is on the other side.
This week there were two interesting little events that may have shown that things are starting to accelerate with the casual voter. First came the announcement that the NFL would play its first-ever Wednesday night game to open the season in September. The reason? that first Thursday in November will be The President’s acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination, and neither side wanted a conflict, especially for a leader who has been such a friend of the game. The second, on Thursday came Bill Simmons sitdown for his podcast with President Obama. Now it’s not really clear what is more significant, that the interviewed showed that podcasts themselves are powerful tools now more accepted by the media and the general public, or that ESPN could get a place at the table with the leader of the free world that many news and political networks couldn’t get. However one thing is clear. The President’s team is again going to play the sports card it used so effectively to engage the casual fan come election time. It worked four years ago, and it will help again this time.
Four years ago in January, Sports Illustrated ran a back of the book story by Scott Price, who had the chance to play then-candidate Barack Obama in a game of basketball. The story showed casual sports fans, who many times are also politics averse, a side of the candidate that they did not know about. That story of course was the first of many where sports and now-President Obama crossed paths on his way to the White House. While it probably pales in comparison to all the other initiatives the Obama camp used for engaging casual voters (social media being one of the biggest), the ability for the candidate at the time to show that he could relate to the casual sports fan was very important. Did it sway the election the following November? Maybe not with huge numbers, but it is hard to think that a President who could make a jump shot (and who had a brother in law in Craig Robinson who is and was a coach) did not at least influence some people to cast a ballot. The other candidates made the odd NASCAR appearance, Senator McCain went on a few hunting trips, but none embraced a sports fan like President Obama did.
This time around we are starting to see the same thing. Governor Romney visits Daytona and looks uncomfortable in interviews, candidates Santorum and Gingrich have not gone the sports route. So the door is open again for the President.
The candidate who is able to court those casual fans in the past few elections did get a nice little boost, and maybe more of a second look when controversy reared its head at least the first time. President Bush was a former Rangers owner, and was able to find home plate more than a few times with a first pitch. President Clinton whooped it up with Arkansas at the Final Four and loved being around athletes. President Obama rarely passes a basketball court without taking a look at the rim. It made sports a talking point when there was not one to engage people, and made them all seem just a little more human, and a little less lofty.
So here we go again. The sports world was abuzz with talk of BCS, MLB playoffs and Jeremy Lin and it was all tied to an ESPN podcast. The spokesperson was not Mike Greenberg, it was Barack Obama, only a few days before Super Tuesday. That type of grassroots appeal will once again give POTUS more street cred, especially if things get tight come Election Day.