- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The lions of Virginia politics are calling for a brief timeout on solving the state’s transportation woes to deal with a new dilemma picking a favorite team in the NCAA basketball tournament.

With four state schools Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion vying for the title, the state’s chosen few have been busy dissecting brackets, talking smack and, in few cases, pondering the political backlash of rooting for one team over another.

“I’m looking forward to a Final Four of Virginia Tech, Virginia, ODU and VCU,” joked Delegate Brian J. Moran, Alexandria Democrat who knows the pairings make that kind of matchup impossible. “As a Democrat, I am always routing for the underdog.”

The NCAA tournament continues today when ODU, a No. 12 seed in the Midwest Region, faces No. 5. Butler in Buffalo, N.Y.. In the West Region, No. 11 seed VCU takes on No. 6 Duke, also in Buffalo.

Tomorrow in Columbus, Ohio, Virginia Tech, the fifth seed in the West Region, squares off against No. 12 Illinois and Virginia, the No. 4 seed in the South Region goes against No. 13 Albany.

While the Morans of the world play it safe with their picks, the March Madness tipoff has shaken most of Virginia’s political dialogue.

Instead of talking about donkeys (Democrats) and elephants (Republicans), lawmakers are discussing Rams, Hokies, Cavaliers and Monarchs.

“I’m a Wahoo all the way,” said Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax County Republican and a Virginia graduate, referring to his alma mater’s team nickname.

“Go ‘Hoos,” echoed Sen. Jeannemarie A. Devolites Davis, Fairfax County Republican and a fellow UVa. graduate.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican whose son attends Virginia Tech, is backing the Hokies. If the Hokies fall, he said he will support whatever Virginia school stays alive in the tournament.

What if all of Virginia’s teams fall?

“He wouldn’t even entertain that possibility,” said Randy Marcus, a spokesman for Mr. Bolling.

For some lawmakers, alma mater and native state loyalty runs so deep they are pulling for out-of-state contenders.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat who grew up in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kan., and is backing Kansas, the top seed in the West Region, thinks among the Virginia schools, UVa. has the best shot to go far in the tournament.

Why?

“Because they’re not in the VCU, Virginia Tech bracket, which also includes Kansas, the governor’s perennial pick to win it all,” Mr. Kaine’s spokesman Kevin Hall said.

House Minority Leader Ward L. Armstrong bleeds Duke blood and has a tough first round draw for political and marital reasons.

“My wife is a VCU graduate,” the Martinsville Democrat said. “It’s a house divided, and I’m sleeping with one eye open.”

Although Duke has struggled, Mr. Armstrong is hoping coach Mike Krzyzewski’s experience will lead the team to a win.

Don’t bet on it, quipped House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican who thinks Memphis, a No. 2 seed in the South Region, can win it all.

“I am picking VCU to beat Duke,” he said. “I think they are underrated by the national media.”

Mr. Armstrong’s response: “I have a wonderful relationship with Morgan Griffith. I think he is great orator, but he is frequently wrong.”

Meanwhile, Attorney General Bob McDonnell, a Republican and Notre Dame graduate, is focused on the matchup between his alma mater and Winthrop.

“He is all about Notre Dame,” Mr. McDonnell’s spokesman J. Martin Tucker said. “I don’t know how to break it to him that I picked Winthrop. Nobody wants to play Winthrop.”

So how much money will Mr. McDonnell win if Notre Dame takes it all?

“There is no wagering going on in the AG’s office,” Mr. Martin said. “We watch it for the joy of the sport.”

Like basketball analyst Dick Vitale, Delegate James M. Scott, Fairfax County Democrat, is banking on North Carolina, the Atlantic Coast Conference champs and No. 1 seed in the East Region, to ride their leading scorer Tyler Hansbrough to the title.

“He is a an absolute force,” said Mr. Scott, a UNC graduate, referring to Hansbrough. “He is not an athlete compared to some of the other guys, but boy does he have heart and the strength. Go Heels!”

After 40 years in the General Assembly, Delegate Vincent F. Callahan Jr. said his upcoming retirement would be all the more sweeter if he left office with alma mater Georgetown holding the title.

“I think it’s written in the stars,” the Fairfax County Republican joked. “It could be a real banner year.”

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