Four years ago this month, 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.
So now as we are getting deep into primary season, it is interesting to note that none of the Republican candidates have yet to try and embrace those casual sports fans as the Obama camp did four years ago. Governor Romney obviously has a strong athletic background given his role in the Salt Lake Olympics, but none of the others seem to be wandering near an ice rink, or a gym, or even a wrestling mat in Iowa. Maybe it is because the younger more athletic demo is still more in the Obama camp, and that the Presidency, with programs like “Let’s Move,” has done a stringer job of keeping those casual voters in their camp. Maybe Republicans feel that the younger, more athletic demo is not yet worth courting as they try to re-engage an older Republican set and those who are more apt to vote or at least swing their vote. Maybe none of the candidates have an interest in athletics, or that given the issues at hand, attending an event would be seen as wasting important time campaigning in other areas. Maybe none are interested in LSU or Alabama, or the Packers or Giants, or maybe even Tim Tebow just yet. Maybe Daytona will be a coming out party for those still in the race.
However one thing is for sure. The Presidential candidate who was 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. Let’s see if any current candidates follow suit, maybe as pitchers and catchers approach.