Obama leads lawmakers in March Madness picks

President Obama should be feeling pretty good about his March Madness picks.

After a weekend's worth of basketball, the president's choices are among the most prescient in the first two rounds of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Obama's picks rank in the 99th percentile on ESPN.com, and he is leading in a pool of his brackets and those of other members of Congress, whose brackets were assembled by The Hill.

Following Sunday night's games, Obama's bracket had earned the most points, putting him, respectively, ahead of Sens. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

The Hill tabulated the scores by Yahoo.com's system, in which one point is awarded for a correct first round pick and two points are awarded for correct second round picks. No additional points are awarded for correctly picking upsets.

Obama scored 49 points out of a possible 64 points, while Hagan scored 48, McCaskill scored 44, McCain and Warner tied at 43, Bennet tallied 39, and Toomey earned 30.

The lawmakers' picks didn't quite get as much publicity as Obama's. The president made his picks on ESPN for the third straight year, though this year drew more political scrutiny from Republicans than in years past. 

"You know, the president has this fixation with the Final Four — spent time on ESPN giving us his version of what really mattered to him, which was the Final Four," former House Speaker Gingrich said last week on Fox News. "What is strange is, with all of these crises, how could you focus that kind of time and attention as president of the United States?"

The Republican National Committee (RNC) also pounced on the president's picks, asking for an explanation from the White House as to why Obama filmed the ESPN segment amid the fallout from an earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the uprising in Libya. 

But many lawmakers, of all ideological stripes joined in the March Madness fun, which began with Thursday afternoon's games, and extended through the weekend. 

Obama's picks projected having all four No. 1 seeds — Ohio State, Duke, Kansas and Pitt — going to the Final Four. More fans picked those teams going to the Final Four than any other teams, according to an ESPN press release last week.

The lawmakers' picks reflected a mix of pragmatism and sports partisanship.

McCaskill apparently liked Kansas enough to initially pick the Jayhawks as her national champion before crossing it out and writing, "Just couldn't do it," on her bracket. (She picked Ohio State instead; Kansas is the traditional rival of McCaskill's beloved Missouri Tigers.)

Toomey went a bit of the "homer" route, which cost him. He picked Villanova and Penn State, each of which were bounced in the first round, to advance all the way to the Elite Eight. He also picked Pittsburgh, a number one seed which suffered a second round upset loss, to win the national championship.

Similarly, Bennet, whose bracket was entitled "CU was Robbed!", referring to the selection committee's snub of the Colorado Buffaloes, and leaving them out of the tournament, picked 15 seed Northern Colorado to beat San Diego State in the first round. (Bennet didn't have the Bears advancing beyond the second round, though.)

By contrast, Warner's lack of homer-ism meant he lost out on some possible points. He correctly picked Virginia Commonwealth University to beat Georgetown in the first round, but incorrectly predicted VCU to lose to Purdue in the second round. He also didn't pick Richmond over Vanderbilt in the first round. Both Richmond and VCU are now in the Sweet Sixteen.

Hagan also lost an opportunity for a point by accidentally picking Kentucky as the winner of the first round matchup between George Mason and Villanova. (Kentucky's matchup was placed a few slots lower on the bracket, and Hagan picked the Wildcats to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.)

Some members of Congress didn't end up filling out brackets (or at least releasing them publicly), though they made clear where their loyalties lie.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) didn't fill out brackets, according to spokesmen for each. But both have their loyalties. Boehner's a big fan of Xavier, and McConnell was no doubt devastated to see his beloved Louisville Cardinals go down in a major first round upset on Thursday. 

Many other lawmakers were wishing their home state teams well. 

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) tweeted Thursday, “Cheering on NJ teams in the tournament. Good luck @Princeton! Go @PUTigers!”

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) tweeted Thursday, "Good luck to the #NIttanyLions men's and women's bball teams. This old Lion will be rooting for you."

Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) tweeted, “Good luck to @ButlerMBB @indianastate @UND_com @PurdueSports in the NCAA tourney #IN.”

Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) said that he would like to see a Final Four of Baylor, U-Conn., Stanford and Georgetown. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) tweeted Thursday, "Go @WestVirginiaU Mountaineers! Beat Clemson! #marchmadness."

Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.)
was so enthusiastic about the University of Arkansas – Little Rock’s prospects that he even made a statement on the House floor Tuesday afternoon. He lauded the team's first Sunbelt championship, and thanked them for representing Little Rock and the state of Arkansas in the NCAA tournament. 

Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) decorated his office door on Capitol Hill with a University of Connecticut poster, showcasing his office décor on Twitter on March 15: “Here’s my office door in Washington. We’re ready for the UConn game on Thursday! Go Huskies! http://yfrog.com/h7xnnnqj

Courtney was also concerned that his constituents would not be able to see the game, and wrote to CBS and the NCAA to broadcast the game so that all Connecticut residents would be able to see the University of Connecticut Huskies play on Thursday.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) were rooting for Brigham Young University, both lawmakers' alma mater, over the weekend. "Good Luck to BYU today! Beat Gonzaga- lets get to the Sweet 16! #Jimmer #BYU," Hatch tweeted Saturday before the game.
 
While congratulating BYU's win, McKeon also took the opportunity to defend lawmakers' participation in March Madness. "Congratulations to my alma mater, #BYUCougars, for advancing 2 Saturday's game vs. #Gonzaga. #congresswatchesbasketballtoo #wearepeopletoo"
 
Members of Congress also took to Twitter to talk trash about their colleagues' teams. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) tweeted Thursday, "Big #Mizzou game tonight vs. Cincinnati Bearcats. Good luck to my friends @SpeakerBoehner & @RobPortman, Cincinnati is going to need it!"

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