The superfecta entry of also-rans—Brownback, Huckabee, Gilmore, and Thompson—followed the home-state version of the same uphill strategy, picking their local underdogs to go all the way. Thanks to Brownback's Kansas Jayhawks, this entry still has one team left in its Final Four, but that's their only team still standing. The other three candidates' home teams have all gone home empty-handed. Favorite son, favorite loser: Their ESPN rank matches their standing in national polls—in the bottom two-tenths of 1 percent.
Along with Brownback, the second-tier candidate with the clearest niche might be Tom Tancredo, whose fervent opposition to immigration strikes a chord with many conservatives. Apparently, top basketball players don't choose colleges the way Tancredo did—the farther from the Mexican border, the better. All the congressman's finalists bowed out in the first round. Tancredo's bracket would be doing better if his campaign were based on fear of illegal immigrants from Canada. For now, his ESPN ranking is stuck in the bottom six-tenths of 1 percent.
No matter how much the second tier stumbles, however, the front-runners can't seem to put this race away. John McCain's bracket hardly lit up the scoreboard this weekend, although he's in good shape to soldier on in later rounds. I thought that by picking all the No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four, he was being too conservative, so I gave him all the No. 12 seeds in the opening round and a Final Four of No. 2 seeds instead. So far, it looks like I was wrong—he wasn't being conservative enough. All four No. 12 seeds lost, all four top seeds survived, and one second-seed (Wisconsin) tumbled. Most of the few upsets McCain picked let him down—Georgia Tech didn't beat UNLV, Gonzaga lost to Indiana, Duke failed to make the Sweet 16 by losing the opener to VCU. As a result, McCain's ESPN rating matches his last showing in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll: 24 percent.
Rudy Giuliani, the runaway early front-runner in the polls, is also the runaway early leader in the brackets. He picked every favorite except Texas Tech and landed at 69 percent in the ESPN rankings. But his current lead is far more vulnerable than it looks. If No. 2 seeds make a comeback this weekend, McCain will pass Giuliani, and Rudy may be looking to make a deal with Brownback.
The wild card in the race, as always, is the elusive Mitt Romney. By any objective standard, Romney's campaign is off to a shaky start—and his brackets are no exception. His dream final—Boston College vs. BYU—didn't make it through the first weekend.
But there's one reason not to count Romney out: He's still revising his picks! His campaign wonders how anyone could jump to the conclusion that Romney would have chosen BYU, his alma mater, over Xavier, a Catholic school from a swing state. Of course, he was for Xavier all along. And far from picking Boston College for the Final Four, Romney insists he spent his entire governorship in Massachusetts trying to ban same-sex sports.
After a great deal of soul-searching that helped clarify his lifelong support for intelligent design, Romney now has Kansas beating Tennessee for the title. His campaign warns that may not be the last word. In matters of conscience, it always pays to check the final score. ... 9:59 A.M. (link)
Wednesday, Mar. 14, 2007
The Road to Minneapolis: You can't blame John McCain for trying to have a little fun on the campaign trail. This week, his campaign Web site focused in on an issue voters across the spectrum care about: March Madness. If you're bored with your office pool or have used up all your picks at ESPN, the McCain site offers another outlet for your predictions. In return for your e-mail address, you can go bracket-to-bracket with John McCain. The winner gets a McCain fleece.
Politicians usually go to great lengths to avoid picking sides in sporting events, unless their home team is involved. If the 2008 World Series comes down to two swing-state teams like Minnesota and Florida, neither nominee is likely to use the presidential debates to predict a Twins or Marlins sweep. So, give McCain some credit for putting his picks on the table.