New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) will attend another Dallas Cowboys game Sunday, one week after his televised embrace of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones during an NFL playoff game sparked a media firestorm and raised questions about his relationship with the billionaire businessman.
Michael Drewniak, a Christie spokesman, confirmed the governor will attend Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.
“As a lifelong Cowboys fan, it’s hard to pass up attending a playoff game when you’ve been dubbed the team’s mojo,” Drewniak said in a Friday e-mail. “Not wanting to risk breaking the team’s 5-0 streak by messing with karma, Governor Christie, his orange sweater, and his son, Andrew, will all travel to Lambeau Field this weekend to attend the game against the Green Bay Packers. The Governor will be paying for travel and tickets for himself, his sweater and his son to make sure we keep silliness out of the football season.”
The Cowboys, who defeated the Detroit Lions last Sunday, will take on the Packers in the second round of the playoffs. Christie, a lifelong Cowboys fan, has attended five of the team’s games this season.
Jones, who paid for Christie’s travel and tickets to the Lions game, told ESPN in an interview taped Thursday that he wanted Christie to sit with him again. “I’ve got him two seats,” Jones said. “He’s a friend. … He’s going to be true blue. I admire that in him. I hope he just keeps coming to games for about the next three, stirring it up out here. … He’s our mojo.”
At the Lions game, an orange-sweater-clad Christie leaped toward Jones as Dallas beat Detroit, 24-20. Christie raised his hands, searching for a high five, and then lurched toward the Cowboys owner, grasping him and another man before ducking his head toward Jones’s chest as all three men celebrated.
Video of the moment immediately went viral on social media and became a focal point of sports commentators and political pundits, who responded with a mix of teasing and critical rants about Christie’s enthusiasm in the owner’s suite.
Reacting Monday on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” comedian Jon Stewart mocked Christie’s “groping” and said the governor’s behavior was a form of “backstabbing” against a state where most residents are fans of the Philadelphia Eagles or the New York Giants.
“It was pandemonium in there,” Christie said Monday on “Boomer and Carton,” a sports-talk program on WFAN, a New York-based network. “It’s difficult to describe the level of intensity in the Jones box.”
But the episode has generated more than critiques from sports personalities and political watchers. Christie been dogged this week by questions about Jones and whether he is too cozy with the 72-year-old football magnate, who has financial links to New Jersey state government.
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the Cowboys franchise has a stake in Legends Hospitality, a group that was tapped to manage the observatory at One World Trade Center, which is controlled by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Susana E. Guerrero, executive director of the New Jersey ethics commission, told the Journal that Christie can accept tickets and flights on Jones’s private jet because Jones is a personal friend.
New Jersey Democrats are considering launching an investigation into Christie’s Cowboys jaunts and whether his association with Jones has violated state ethics laws.
"It smacks of improper behavior. It smacks of hypocrisy," state assemblyman John Wisniewski (D) said in an interview with CNN. "It smacks of inside deals that the average guy in Jersey can't ever dream of having the opportunity to do. It's wrong."
Specifically, they may look at why Christie publicly lobbied the Port Authority’s board of commissioners to approve the deal with Legends in a news release issued a day ahead of the vote in March 2013. State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D), the other co-chair of the committee, has told NJ.com that she found Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) public support of the Legends bid “a little strange.”
Wisniewski and Weinberg lead a legislative panel that has probe Christie’s role in the 2013 shutdown of lanes heading to the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey.
Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell (D) said that in light of the Port Authority ties, it would be best for Christie to pay his own way to Green Bay. “Christie’s counsel has said he could take the tickets and the airplane flights," Rendell said in an interview Thursday with The Washington Post. "Clearly with Jerry Jones having done business with the state that no longer applies."
Christie’s potential rivals for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination have poked fun at Christie since the hug went viral.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) said in an interview Thursday on “The Mike Heller Show,” a sports-radio program in Madison, Wis., that he would attend Sunday’s game and expected to see Christie. “I’m going to give him a hug,” Walker said. “It won’t be as awkward as Jerry Jones.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), in an interview with gossip Web site TMZ, laughed when asked about Christie and Jones. “Jerry Jones says he’s part of their mojo…. So, if he loses, and he doesn’t go, he’s going to get blamed by the Dallas Cowboys fans. If he goes and they win, he’s going to get blamed by the Packers fans. He can’t win either way.”
Christie has yet to decide whether to mount a campaign for the White House. In 2011, after overtures from some GOP activists, he decided against entering the Republican presidential primary. In recent weeks, he has been contemplating his political future with his family and huddling with his top advisers, mapping out possible paths to the nomination should he jump into the contest.
Walker, who frequently campaigned for reelection last year clad in a Packers jersey, has had some tensions with Christie in the past year. For the most part, however, they have had a chummy rapport as fellow GOP governors.
During his hard-fought reelection contest last year, Walker wondered aloud in interviews whether the Republican Governors Association, which Christie chaired at the time, was spending enough money on his race, which Walker ultimately won. “Hopefully that comes through,” Walker told The Post in October. “We are always looking for more help. Our main help has to be the RGA.”
Walker’s exchanges this week with Christie have been more kidding than strained, with a populist potshot on Twitter drawing notice.
In a message Wednesday to his 94,000 followers, Walker wrote, “This is the type of owner I'll be looking to hug after a #Packers win on Sunday.” He uploaded a picture of a bearded Packers fan wearing a pointed “cheese head” hat with the word “owner” displayed in green over yellow foam. Unlike the Cowboys, the Packers are owned by stockholders, many of whom live in Wisconsin and own individual shares.
Christie’s Twitter rebuttal was to publish an image of Walker gripping his son in an embrace with his eyes closed, and with a cut-out of Christie’s moment with Jones layered atop the image, as if all three were having a group hug. “@GovWalker don’t worry… there are enough awkward hugs to go around,” Christie wrote to his 490,000 or so followers.
“I think the tweet back was almost as awkward as the original hug,” Walker joked Thursday, in his radio interview.
Walker and Christie, along with a group of other possible GOP presidential contenders, will be in Des Moines later this month to address a gathering of conservative activists hosted by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a tea-party hard-liner who opposes comprehensive immigration reform.
The Christie-Jones kerfuffle comes as former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who is seen as one of Christie’s leading competitors in the emerging GOP field, moves closer to formally announcing a run for president. Bush has kept a relatively low public profile this week, eschewing interviews and raising money for his new political-action committee. On Wednesday, Bush hosted more than 100 wealthy Republican financiers at a fundraiser in Greenwich, Conn.
Rendell, a diehard Eagles fan and part-time sports-television analyst, said Christie’s repeated declarations of love for the Cowboys have upset Eagles fans who live in southern New Jersey, and that cooling the intensity of his affection for the Jones would be smart politics.
“Didn’t he watch 'Silver Linings Playbook'? In South Jersey, they’re sometimes more rabid about the Eagles than they are in Philadelphia,” Rendell said. “There is no reason to sit with Jerry Jones, perhaps the most hated person in Philadelphia, hugging him and high-fiving, and putting it right in the face of your constituents.”
Former New Jersey congressman Mike Ferguson (R), a Christie ally, said: “It’s funny to watch the big deal everybody is making of it, but anyone who knows Chris knows he isn’t shy about rooting for his favorite sports teams. He’s not shy about anything.”
Christie’s brother, Todd, has also defended the governor.
“To all of those non Cowboy fans who have their panties in a ringer because the Governor of NJ is a Cowboys fan -- GET A LIFE !!!” Todd wrote in post on his Facebook page. He added, “ALL of you would sit with the owner of your favorite team in a heartbeat if given the chance.”
Matt Bonesteel contributed to this report.