NEWARK, N.J. (AP) 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, 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 fell in love with the Cowboys watching Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach. His 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.
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.
The palling around with Jones hasn't gone unnoticed outside of the sports world, either. The billionaire owner of the Cowboys supplied Christie with transportation via private jet and a ticket to the game in his suite. It's the third time Christie has seen the game on Jones' tab, according to a Christie spokesman.
Christie's office says the gifts are permitted under an executive order, first established under Democratic Gov. Jim McGreevey, that allows governor to ''accept gifts, favors, services, gratuities, meals, lodging or travel expenses from relatives or personal friends that are paid for with personal funds.''
But the Democratic National Committee quickly seized on a Wall Street Journal story published Tuesday that said Jones' Cowboys are part owners of Legends Hospitality, the operator of the soon-to-open observatory at One World Trade Center. The new skyscraper in lower Manhattan is operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo jointly control.
Christie's office says it has fully complied with state rules.
The prime seats may also undermine Christie's carefully crafted image as an everyman. The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol predicted that when Dallas travels to Green Bay for their next playoff game, against the Packers on Sunday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is sure to sit in ''the cheap seats & freeze with the common people'' at Lambeau Field. Christie said he wants to attend.
For his part, and as is his practice, Christie doesn't much seem to care about what his critics think.
''Just because I'm governor of New Jersey doesn't mean that I change who I root for,'' he said Monday. ''That's it.'' Christie's chief political adviser, Mike DuHaime, said there was ''zero political calculation'' in the governor's allegiances.
Indeed, 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. Texas, after all, is a Republican-leaning state with 38 electoral college votes - more than any other save California.
Steve Duprey, the Republican National Committeeman for New Hampshire and a former senior adviser to John McCain, said it's getting harder for candidates to break through to voters. Christie's sports allegiance might help him do just that.
''You have to do things that let the public get to know a little bit of who you are,'' he said.