When two of the fiercest rivals in all of professional sports — teams 400 miles apart in California — face off in a dramatic playoff series, what’s a politician to do?
For some, the choice between the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers is easy.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who represents San Francisco, frequently attends Giants games and once quoted one of their pitchers in a pep talk to House freshmen. The Democrat opened a news conference last week by bragging about her team’s best-in-baseball 107 victories.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who represents Bakersfield, speaks often about his love for the Dodgers on social media, sharing pictures with famed announcer Vin Scully and of his pets with Dodgers-branded stuffed toys.
“Never bet against the Dodgers. Retweet if you believe they will go all the way! #RepeatLA,” he tweeted Thursday.
Other California politicians find themselves in a bind. When the series starts Friday, should they support their home team at the risk of ticking off half the state? Tribalism is strong in American politics, but it may be stronger in sports.
Some statewide elected officials try to have it both ways … up to a point.
“As Governor of CA … excited that we’re guaranteed an historic playoff series between @MLB‘s two best teams — the @SFGiants and @Dodgers. One way or another a CA team is moving onto the next round!” Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted, before adding, “But as a native San Franciscan … I may have a different opinion… #BeatLA”
Sen. Alex Padilla, who’s from Los Angeles, clapped back at the governor:
“As Senator of CA … excited that we’re guaranteed an historic playoff series between @MLB’s two best teams — the @SFGiants and @Dodgers. One way or another a CA team is moving on to the next round. But as a native Angeleno, I may have a different opinion…#LetsGoDodgers,” Padilla responded.
Padilla also tweeted a picture of his Senate office featuring a Dodgers jersey draped on his chair and an autographed baseball cap perched on his desk.
His Bay Area colleague, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, was born in San Francisco and is steadfast in her support.
Feinstein “is a loyal Giants fan and will be rooting for her home team,” said aide Tom Mentzer.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who grew up Berkeley and was district attorney of San Francisco, also plans to cheer for the Giants. She has received flack for supporting the Dodgers in years past, including the time she wore the Los Angeles team’s hat during a debate walk-through in 2019, or in 2015 when the then-California attorney general supported the team against the Mets after the Giants were eliminated.
“Always wish the best to any CA team in post season while my @SFGiants rest up for next yr,” Harris said at the time on Twitter.
Harris is part of a divided household — Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff is a lifelong Dodgers fan. The couple have compromised over the years, each occasionally wearing sports apparel boosting the other’s team.
Navigating such loyalties can be tricky, but they are particularly challenging in politics.
Running to fill the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, Massachusetts Atty. Gen. Martha Coakley infuriated Red Sox fans by saying that pitcher Curt Schilling, who backed rival candidate Scott Brown, was a Yankees supporter. Schilling, who in 2004 led the Red Sox to their first World Series win since 1918, was adored by Bostonians. She also rejected retail politicking, saying, “Standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?” Brown handily beat Coakley.
In the 2008 presidential race after his Chicago White Sox were no longer in contention, then-Sen. Barack Obama was chided by rival Sen. John McCain for saying at a campaign event in Philadelphia that he would root for the Phillies, and then days later for having supportive words for the Tampa Bay Rays while speaking in Florida.
Hillary Clinton, a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, was viewed as nakedly pandering for donning a New York Yankees cap shortly before running for Senate in the state. (She protested that she had long supported both teams.)
Then-Rep. Michele Bachmann was mocked when during a tailgate at the 2011 Iowa-Iowa State football game, the presidential candidate wore a top that appeared to be sewn together from one half of a Hawkeyes jersey and one half of a Cyclones jersey.
Five years later, when former Hewlett-Packard chief Carly Fiorina rooted for Iowa over Stanford — where she is an alumna — in the Rose Bowl, SBNation wrote, “The presidential candidate shamelessly turned her back on her alma mater to get Iowan votes.”
Iowans were apparently unimpressed. Both lost the caucuses badly and ended their presidential bids shortly afterward.