Sources on Runyan: Gentle Giant in D.C. was ‘like Gopher from the Love Boat’

Sources around U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan (R-3) said family motivated the second-term congressman’s decision today to stand down from pursuing a third term and it’s what he said himself in a statement – but it was more than that, according to Republican Party allies.

The former Eagles offensive lineman has children, at least one of them in shoulder pads, and the Flint, Michigan kid who grew up to become an NFL star turned federal lawmaker wanted to spend time on the football sideline in support of his son, one source said.

A “nice man – a gentle giant,” according to a friend in the party, the congressman could feel the time sliding away from him, and wanted to be there for his growing children.

But other sources in the GOP familiar with Runyan said there were other factors.

He was at an event recently, it might have been a chicken dinner or a ribbon cutting, and a party member went up to him and asked Runyan how it was going.

There was a pause before the congressman opened up, according to the source.

“These people are crazy,” Runyan said.

PolitickerNJ.com asked the source if he thought Runyan meant the Tea Party, and he said he didn’t think so – not the Tea Party alone, but the entire cloak and dagger culture of Washington, D.C.

“This is a guy with money and success, and he got down there with those guys, and it was like – he was like Gopher from the Love Boat,” the source told PolitickerNJ.com. “Remember that actor from the Love Boat who went to Congress?”

U.S. Rep. Fred Grandy (R-Iowa) lasted four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives before he left trailing a similar assessment of the federal culture.

Another source in the party who knows Runyan confirmed that he was simply never designed to backroom brawl and think calculatedly and politically in order to cut in line, particularly during these times of terrific fracture in the Republican Congressional Caucus.

“He’s a football player,” the source said. “He enjoyed working on veterans’ issues and issues around the base (Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst), but after that, I just don’t think Jon enjoyed the culture of Washington, D.C.”

Runyan dethroned then-incumbent U.S. Rep. John Adler (D-3) with the promise that he wouldn’t stay longer than eight years in Congress.

He lasted half that time, and to those who have worked with him closely, the only surprise was the particular timing of the news. But they didn’t sense any deep enjoyment at this point in Runyan for his job in a politically charged atmosphere worsened by intra-party strife in D.C., sources said.   

“An environment like that is not where he wanted to spend time,” a source said.

Runyan’s reluctance to get nasty showed early. 

The political neophyte went to a Tea party event during the June 2010 GOP Primary and a woman went up to him and demanded that he repudiate a photo of two gay men.

Used to saving his sense of outrage for the professional football field, the former Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman declined.

In return, he got an earful.

Asked to pick a highlight from the trail in the hours before Election Day, he also declined.

“There’s not one thing that jumps out at me,” said the 3rd Congressional District candidate. “It’s more of the grind than anything.”

"Sit down and shut up!"
—Gov. Chris Christie, to a Hurricane Sandy heckler