April 4, 2003
Bush Faced Terrific Quandry in White House NCAA Pool

Karl Rove put extraordinary pressure for Bush to favor Florida over Texas in his submission to the popular White House NCAA pool. There was great debate among top aides to the President about whether to favor "red-state" teams or "blue-state" teams, meaning teams from states that voted for or against Bush. However, it was finally decided that the imperative of securing Florida in the 2004 election mandated fprcing Bush to pick the number 2 seeded Florida to beat number 1 seeded Texas in the Elite 8, because "we'll carry Texas anyway," said Rove.

"Why can't we just make them move to the East Division?" asked Bush, who was supported by in his suggestion to pressure the NCAA organizers to move Florida to another division so that Bush could avoid making the difficult choice. Powell was sent to negotiate with the NCAA on Bush's behalf where, typically, he failed.

When Florida was wiped out in the Sweet 16 against Maryland, Bush became despondent, moping around the White House and seeming "steely eyed but burdened":

[Bush] rarely jokes with staffers these days and occasionally startles them with sarcastic putdowns. . . .Interviews with a dozen friends, advisers and top aides describe a man who feels he is being tested.
The White House found an upside, though. "We'll make this about the war," said Ari Fleischer. And so they did.

did not participate in the pool, preferring to run it in exchange for a percentage of the winnings. "Last year that pool bought me a pool," he joked, smiling or grimacing -- it was impossible to say which.

Posted by Tom Burka at 3:07 PM in News