LONDON — The Republican presidential field may have been reshaped again over the weekend, but for White House hopeful Chris Christie, 2016 is far from his mind. Or so he claims.
After attending an English football match here Sunday, Christie was asked by reporters about the 2016 sweepstakes, but he played dumb. “I’m not processing a lot at the moment,” the New Jersey governor said. “I’ve processed some soccer. That was about it.”
What about Christie’s dinner Friday with Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee whose decision to forgo another campaign reshuffled the field? Christie playfully dodged the question, responding with a smile and a question of his own: “How you doing?”
And how about the fact that few Brits seem to know who he is? “I don’t think I have to worry about that,” Christie said. “I’m not running for anything in the United Kingdom anytime soon.”
So began Christie’s three-day tour of Britain, officially a trade mission to promote New Jersey’s life sciences and financial industries but also an opportunity to burnish his foreign policy credentials ahead of a likely 2016 campaign.
Sporting a red-and-white team scarf underneath his black overcoat, Christie attended a Sunday home match of Arsenal, a celebrated English football team. He and his wife, Mary Pat, sat in the stands at center field in the gleaming, modern Emirates Stadium, where a capacity crowd of 60,000 cheered loudly on a frigid gray afternoon to watch Arsenal defeat Aston Villa, 5-0.
“Game was great,” Christie told reporters as he left the stadium, hordes of fans filing past him. “Coming to a place like this, that’s a pretty famous place internationally for their enthusiasm, was a lot of fun. So we had a good time.”
Christie said this is his and wife's fourth trip to London since getting married. "It's one of our more favorite places to come, so we're very familiar with this city as tourists," he said.
Christie plans to watch the Super Bowl from a London pub, but said that without his beloved Dallas Cowboys playing, he was not taking sides between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks. “It really doesn’t matter to me one way or the other,” he said.
Christie watched the Arsenal game with members of New Jersey’s delegation, including Rutgers University President Robert Barchi, as well as Nick Astbury, the deputy consul general and deputy head of mission from the British Consulate General in New York.
The governor’s seats were provided by Arsenal, but Christie is reimbursing the team for his tickets, aides said.
An avid sports fan, Christie sparked controversy last month when he accepted free tickets to several Dallas Cowboys games from team owner Jerry Jones, with whom Christie had become friendly.
Arsenal’s largest shareholder is Stanley Kroenke, a U.S. billionaire businessman who public records show has made substantial political donations to Republican Party committees and candidates as well as to some Democrats, including Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.).
Kroenke owns the St. Louis Rams but is part of an effort to possibly move the Rams to Los Angeles. He is involved in a joint venture to build an 80,000-seat stadium in the Los Angeles area.
At the Arsenal match, the name Chris Christie did not register with many fans.
“I enjoy American politics, but I’ve never heard of him,” said Maggie Mote-Thear, a 63-year-old nurse, as she bit into a cucumber sandwich at half-time. “It’s amazing. He’s at our match? Why is he here? I have to ask.”
A few Brits, however, were somewhat familiar with the governor.
“He’s the guy from New Jersey, right?” said Tim Love, 30, a social media manager. “I know he was touted as the next Republican candidate and he was involved in some sort of scandal that did him in. But I forgot what was the scandal. What was the scandal?”
John Barlow, 56, a communications officer for London’s fire and rescue service, said he was familiar with some of Christie’s YouTube hits.
“I’ve seen a little bit of him on the Web,” Barlow said. “He’s very, very different. I don’t know if he says this stuff for effect, but he seems to create an audience. That’s probably the best way to describe it.”
Matea Gold and Alice Crites in Washington contributed to this report.