NEWARK, N.J. — Chris Christie loves the Dallas Cowboys. Not only is he not ashamed of it, he wants you to know it.
Tossing any risks of political offense aside, and ethics questions, the potential Republican candidate for president doesn’t bother to cheer for any of the teams that would make more sense for the governor of New Jersey.
No, he’s an over-the-top, awkward-hugging, lucky-sweater-wearing and sports-talk-show-calling fan of the self-proclaimed “America’s Team.” And he might just be scoring political points by sticking with his ‘Boys rather than sailing fairer winds by pretending to care about the New York Giants or the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I think, if anything, it shows he’s authentic — him standing by his team,” said Matt Moore, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, who acknowledged owning a Cowboys jersey and helmet as a kid.
“True sports fans know what it’s like to stand on couches and shout at the TV. We all get caught up in the moment,” Moore said. “I don’t know if it’s anything more than being a super fan, but Gov. Christie’s love of the Cowboys is definitely smart politics.”
Christie’s fanboy ways were again on display Sunday, when he was spotted gleefully celebrating the team’s comeback win against the Detroit Lions in the NFL playoffs. He was hard to miss in owner Jerry Jones’ box, wearing his sure-to-be-noticed orange good luck sweater, bouncing around and looking for a hug after the Cowboys’ 24-20 wild-card victory.
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It wasn’t the first time Christie has shown up in Jones’ box, nor the first time his display of affection for the team and its owner has drawn withering fire on social media and among radio talkers. Christie’s high-five of Jones after the Cowboys beat the Philadelphia Eagles last month was seen by some in South Jersey and elsewhere as rubbing it in.
There’s also the question of where Christie chooses to sit — namely, with Jones, the billionaire owner of the Cowboys, who supplied the governor with transportation via private jet and a ticket to the game in his suite, raising questions about state ethics rules. It’s the third time Christie has seen the game on Jones’ tab, according to a Christie spokesman.
The International Business Times reports government documents show Christie personally pushed the Port Authority to approve a lucrative contract for a firm part-owned by Jones.
Christie officials assert that the gifts are legal under a separate executive order that aims to exempt gifts from personal friends of the governor.
That left The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol to predict that when Dallas travels to Green Bay for their next playoff game, against the Packers on Sunday, he’d miss Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is sure to sit in “the cheap seats & freeze with the common people” at Lambeau Field.
But the guy who fell in love with the Cowboys watching Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach does not care about your taunts.
His team, after all, is winning.
“I call it as I see it,” Christie declared in mid-December on a South Jersey sports-talk station. “And I’m not going to be one of these politicians who changes their sports team loyalties just to score political points.”
He added Monday morning: “Just because I’m governor of New Jersey doesn’t mean that I change who I root for. That’s it.”
Didn’t his antics risk votes in Michigan, home of the Lions and a state he’ll likely need to carry to win the White House, should he win his party’s nomination?
Perhaps, but Christie appears to be doubling down on his straight-talker image, making a calculated play that embracing his love of his team is a better way to win over votes than pandering to fans at home.
“Iowa has a lot of Cowboys fans,” said Tim Albrecht, a Republican strategist from the first-to-vote state, “and I am sure they will look forward to hearing about the game as well as his vision for the country next time he visits here.”
Steve Duprey, the Republican National Committeeman for New Hampshire and a former senior adviser to John McCain, said it’s getting harder and harder for candidates to break through to voters and said Christie’s sports allegiance could actually be a useful tool.
“You have to do things that let the public get to know a little bit of who you are,” he said, drawing a comparison to George W. Bush’s penchant for bass fishing and McCain’s appreciation for hiking.
Texas is also a Republican-leaning state, with 38 electoral college votes in presidential elections — more than any state besides California.
Christie’s chief political adviser, Mike DuHaime, said politics had nothing to do with it. “He is who he is. He is a Cowboys fan and always has been. There is zero political calculation. If there was, he probably wouldn’t be a Mets fan too, and certainly not a Rangers fan.”
Christie has made repeat appearances on sports radio shows after Cowboys wins, he posts about Dallas on his official Twitter and Facebook pages, and his staffers have touted his fandom in government press releases that list all the games he’s attended in person.
Among the tidbits noted Monday in two releases: Christie has worn the same orange sweater to each of the five games he’s attended this season.
The Cowboys, by the way, won them all.
“For all the flak I get on my orange sweater, it’s now a perfect 5-0 @dallascowboys games. I’m not breaking that Karma,” Christie tweeted Monday.
JILL COLVIN, Associated Press