Last year, VCU coach Shaka Smart had what he called at the time a "phenomenal thing" -- the opportunity to meet President Barack Obama at the White House. The VCU Rams didn't finish their magical run to the Final Four with a national title -- Butler is not to be out-Cinderella'd, no sir -- and so the White House visit never materialized. But on Saturday, just a day after the 2012 national champion Kentucky Wildcats take their White House visit, Smart will find himself on the same stage as the leader of the free world.
It won't be the first time -- Smart was Obama's guest at last year's White House Correspondents' Dinner -- but it will be the first of an overtly political nature. From VCU's Thursday night release:
Smart, who will be entering his fourth season, will serve as the host for a rally at the Siegel Center for President Barack Obama. Obama will be on his first re-election campaign trip with the Siegel Center being his second stop after an appearance at Ohio State earlier on Saturday. Smart will welcome not only President Obama, but also the first lady, Michelle Obama, to the Siegel Center.
Smart hasn't hidden his admiration for the president in the past: He voted for Obama in Florida in 2008, where his wife, Maya, spent the year campaigning in the state. Via Decision Virginia, Smart even joked about his wife's impact on the election at the time:
“I remember she had all the staffers and volunteers over to our house, and they’d be calling and preparing, and Maya kept saying that, ‘We’re going to win Florida,’” Smart said. “If you ask her today, she’s still the reason why.”
The state of Florida is always a massive electoral entity in any election, but arguably Virginia is no less important to Obama's chances of reelection in 2012. According to the Washington Post, voters currently favor Obama in the state -- he won Virginia in 2008, the first Democrat in four decades to do so -- but are split on Obama's first-term policies, notably health care reform. Both the Obama and Romney campaigns are already converging on the state, letting loose with a flurry of ads that will surely grow to infuriate nearly every Virginia resident in the months to come. (As someone who grew up in Iowa, let me tell you: After a few months, you just want the TV ads to stop.)
In any case, getting a boost from one of the most popular men in one of the most populous cities in the state surely can't hurt Obama's reelection chances. If Obama retains the state in 2012, Smart can take some small share of the credit -- and even take back the bragging rights from his wife.
Basketball coach and presidential power broker? Popularity has its perks.