British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks as President Obama looks on… (TruTV )
The ride on Air Force One was a rare invitation from President Obama to a visiting world leader. The destination – an opening-round NCAA tournament game in Ohio – also was a personal gesture befitting the "special relationship" between the United States and Britain.
But the extra treat for Prime Minister David Cameron, Obama said in an interview tonight, was a glimpse of America's heartland.
"I thought it was going to be wonderful for the prime minister to have a chance not only to see a basketball game for the first time, but also to come to the great state of Ohio," Obama said as he stood beside Cameron on the Dayton Arena court during a live interview on the TruTV broadcast.
"Sometimes, when we have foreign visitors, they're only visiting the coasts. They go to New York, they go to Washington, they go to Los Angeles. But, you know, the heartland is what it's all about."
When the outing was announced last week, the domestic political angle was hard to overlook. As Republicans slug it out in the Deep South primaries in Mississippi and Alabama, there stood the president in the battleground state of Ohio, showing off not only his everyman, sports-fanatic self, but pairing it with a reminder of his status as commander in chief and world leader.
Cameron is in the United States for talks with Obama on Wednesday, ahead of a White House state dinner in the evening. On Tuesday, publicly at least, the two focused on building upon the friendship they have forged over the last years.
Cameron told CBS' Clark Kellogg that Obama was giving him some tips as they watched the game, and that he was also "going to help me fill out my bracket." Obama quickly jumped in to say that Cameron is going to teach him the ins and outs of cricket "because I don't understand what's going on."
Obama offered some analysis of the first half of the game between Western Kentucky and Mississippi Valley State, bluntly saying both teams were "shooting terribly."
"It may be nerves. These are not teams that normally end up coming to the tournament," he said.
But one does not want to seem to be having too much fun, especially with ongoing economic anxiety at home and fresh reminders of the cost of war in Afghanistan. Republicans were eager to offer a reality check.
"While showing off our amazing college basketball teams is great, many Americans struggling to find jobs, dealing with soaring gas prices, or concerned with our rising deficit and debt would probably like the president to spend at least as much time dealing with those issues," said Sean Spicer, communications director for the Republican National Committee.
Obama said he probably wouldn't be able to watch much more of the tournament.
"But part of what makes this wonderful is not only that anybody – at least at the start of the tournament – has a dream about winning it," he said. "Everybody, including these two teams, are thinking maybe I'll be the Cinderella this year."