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Obama, Cameron show game faces  President Obama guides British Prime Minister David Cameron's view of the action on the basketball court as Mississippi Valley State battles Western Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA tourney at the University of Dayton.
President Obama guides British Prime Minister David Cameron's view of the action on the basketball court as Mississippi Valley State battles Western Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA tourney at the University of Dayton.
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Published: Wednesday, 3/14/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Obama, Cameron show game faces

World leaders watch basketball, strengthen countries' ties

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

DAYTON -- President Obama treated British Prime Minister David Cameron Tuesday to a trip to Ohio, which happens to be a key presidential battleground state, and a college basketball game -- hot dog and all.

President Obama seems to get the moniker "Basketball Fan-In-Chief" every year during the ''March Madness'' college tournament, and the two world leaders were not disappointed Tuesday night.

They watched a thrilling first-round game, with Western Kentucky barely beating Mississippi Valley State by a score of 59-58.

Earlier, Mr. Obama shuttled the prime minister to Ohio on Air Force One. The plane touched down at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base just before 6 p.m. and the world leaders were greeted by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, who spent about a minute talking to the President.

Mr. Obama took off his jacket and spent several minutes shaking hands with a few dozen U.S. airmen from the base assembled for the visit. As he departed, the President shouted to them, "Keep up the good work!" They cheered and took photographs.

Airman 1st Class Jason Sampson, whose home is near Pittsburgh, said it was a thrill to meet the President, and he was happy Mr. Obama was taking Mr. Cameron to a ball game.

"Basketball is, of course, not as big over there in England, so I think it's great," he said.

A White House spokesman said the trip to the NCAA tournament game at University of Dayton arena during Mr. Cameron's three-day visit to the United States aimed to showcase the close relationship between the two key allies. President Obama is an avid basketball fan, but Mr. Cameron is more likely to been seen at a cricket or tennis match. British Ambassador Peter Westmacott told reporters in Washington Monday that the prime minister was brushing up on his basketball knowledge.

In the game's early moments, the score was tied at 4, and Mr. Obama at times appeared to be explaining aspects of the game to Mr. Cameron.

Shortly after the game started, two young women delivered three hot dogs -- one each for Mr. Obama, Mr. Cameron, and a White House aide.

The prime minister put ketchup on his, and both men could be seen eating pretty quickly. Between plays, the President chatted with the students seated around him.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Cameron, who were both interviewed at halftime by sportscaster Clark Kellogg, were expected to discuss upcoming NATO and G-8 summits on Wednesday, followed by a state dinner at the White House.

Mr. Obama told Mr. Kellogg he wanted to take the prime minister to "the great state of Ohio," noting that many world leaders only get to see cities such as New York, Washington, and Los Angeles.

"The heartland is what it's all about," the President added.

The two stayed for the whole game, but the trip had more to do with the upcoming battle for the White House than the college basketball championship. Ohio is a key state that Mr. Obama carried in 2008. The trip is just one week after Republican front-runner Mitt Romney captured Ohio's GOP primary. Additionally, Vice President Joe Biden is to be in Toledo Thursday for a speech at United Auto Workers Local 12 on Ashland Avenue.

Lucas County Republican Party Chairman Jon Stainbrook joined other Republicans nationally who were critical of the trip.

"Americans are struggling to find jobs and gas prices are soaring, and I think we have had a courtside seat to Obama's performance the last four years," Mr. Stainbrook said. "That is the real situation the President should be dealing with. I also understand there is a basketball game here, but people will perceive it as the President fiddling as Rome burns."

Others were less concerned about the politics and just excited to have the President in the house.

John Santos, a student at University of Dayton, said he could see Mr. Obama from his seat.

"That's a rare treat -- to be seated close to a sitting U.S. President while you're at a ball game," Mr. Santos, 19, said. "They should have given him a ball and let him shoot a few shots."

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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