Fan-in-chief Obama draws popular basketball coach for Virginia rally
President Barack Obama’s big re-election campaign rally in Virginia on Saturday will feature a speaker who could be the most popular man in the battleground state.
It’s not a politician, like Tim Kaine, the former governor now running for the U.S. Senate, who will also be at Virginia Commonwealth University for the event. Two other Democratic Virginia politicians, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb, will not be there.
It is Shaka Smart, VCU’s basketball coach, who will host the rally before Obama speaks.
Smart is likely to be the event’s biggest draw – after the president and first lady Michelle Obama. The charismatic coach is hugely popular for leading the VCU Rams to unexpected success on the basketball court, and for staying at the school when bigger programs came calling. Smart, who is making $1.2 million a year at VCU, earlier this year turned down a $2.6 million a year contract to coach at the University of Illinois — incidentally in Obama’s home state.
Obama is a huge basketball fan who cheers for his hometown Chicago Bulls and took British Prime Minister David Cameron to the NCAA college basketball tournament in March.
Obama also releases his own bracket of picks every year for the 64-team college championship tournament — although his picks have not reflected a great deal of faith in Smart’s team.
When VCU made its shock run to the “Final Four” semi-finals in 2011, Obama picked them to lose in the first round. This year, the president did better, correctly selecting the mid-major school, a 12th seed, to upset number 5 Wichita State in their first tournament game. Unfortunately for Smart, Obama also correctly forecast his team’s fate in the second round – a loss to Indiana.
Picture Credit: REUTERS/Jeff Haynes