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Obama's March Madness? Why he's taking British PM to hoops extravaganza.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is in the US, so why not hold the press conference at a March Madness basketball game? What do you think of Iran, Mr. Cameron ... and please pass the corn dogs. 

By Staff writer / March 13, 2012

US President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron walk to the Marine One helicopter before departing for Ohio from Washington Tuesday.

Joshua Roberts/REUTERS

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It’s the visuals, stupid!

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That’s the message behind Tuesday’s halftime press conference with President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron during the NCAA tournament kickoff game in Ohio.

Typically, of course, presidents and prime ministers meet the press in more august settings – ones that are plentiful in gold leaf rather than cheese fries. But holding the only joint press event of Mr. Cameron's visit to the US at a basketball game speaks not only to the perpetual desire to show world leaders as "average Joes," but also to make a statement about the US-British relationship. 

“The message here is that the relationship between Britain and the US is like a relative or a close friend,” says Paul Levinson, a media professor at Fordham University in New York. “You only take someone you like and are comfortable with to your favorite sports game.”

The jaunt on Air Force One from the nation’s capital to the heart of March Madness in the Midwest may be a foreign-policy first, but the strategy is firmly in line with one of the great traditions of American politics – sending the message that no matter how rich or educated, this candidate (as the president is) still relates to common folk.

“This is presidential electoral politics for a populist age,” says Jerald Podair, professor of history and American studies at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis.  

But the populist touch can often backfire. Candidate John Kerry once said he loved "Lambert Field" in Green Bay, Wis. (The Packers' stadium is actually Lambeau Field.) Mitt Romney hobnobbed at the Daytona 500, but said he had friends who were NASCAR team owners.

It "undercut his common-man message by reminding everyone how rich he is,” says Professor Podair.   

The strategy did work for Bill Clinton when he appeared on “Arsenio Hall" playing the saxophone, and it stretches back through William Henry Harrison and his successful “Log Cabin and Hard Cider” campaign of 1840.

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