It’s a presidential tradition as old as the campaign itself: When candidates visit the early primary states, they’re expected to pander to the local voters on the state’s pet issue.
In Iowa, candidates are asked to back ethanol. In South Carolina, they want candidates to support dredging Charleston Harbor. In Nevada, candidates are always questioned about Yucca Mountain’s nuclear waste repository.
The pander-du-jour in New Hampshire? Tom Brady’s innocence. In a state that prides itself on asking candidates tough questions, New Hampshire enjoys hearing candidates confirm their support for the Patriots quarterback in Deflategate.
On Sunday, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz became the latest candidate to defend Brady. After campaigning in New Hampshire, he stopped by a barn party in Andover, Mass., where he declared, “Tom Brady was framed.”
“Now I’m not willing to pander on much, but on that Tom Brady was framed!” said Cruz, according to a video from a conservative blog. “And I will say this, I have it on good authority that Hillary Clinton did it. Why do you think she deleted her e-mails?”
He’s not alone in his support for Brady, who was slapped with a four-game suspsension for his alleged role in deflating footballs ahead of an AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts earlier this year.
Last month New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who attended Dallas Cowboys playoff games this year as a fan, said too much was being made of Deflategate and Brady, and the New England Patriots deserved their Super Bowl championship title this year.
“I would certainly give [Tom Brady] the benefit of the doubt on this,” Christie told the Globe in a video interview. “I don’t think anybody should be saying that the Patriots wouldn’t have won the Superbowl . . . if not for the talent of Tom Brady, the talent of Bill Belichick.”
During US Senator Rand Paul’s early May trip to New Hampshire, he offered the perfect compliment to the beleaguered Brady. When asked about his situation with the National Football League, Paul responded, “I don’t want to get in trouble because my wife is a huge fan. My wife had her picture taken with Tom Brady.”
Even Donald Trump has come to Brady’s defense. In an early May video posted online, the businessman’s temper (and nostrils) flared when he declared that if he were Brady, he’d “sue the hell” out of the NFL. Trump is expected to make an announcement about whether he’ll run for president next week.
So far, there’s at least one candidate not willing to pander to Patriots fans in New Hampshire — sort of.
US Senator Marco Rubio has football loyalties that go beyond the campaign trail. His wife is a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader. When asked about Brady at a New Hampshire house party in April, Rubio said he is not a fan of the New England sports team.
“That Tom Brady guy has been torturing me and my Miami Dolphins,” Rubio said, according to The New York Times. “And I can’t wait until he retires.”
James Pindell can be reached at James.Pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell.