Fictional Texas high school football has become real-life political football: “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose” is now part of the 2012 presidential election.

The phrase, made famous by coach Eric Taylor’s Dillon Panthers (and East Dillon Lions) on the beloved NBC/DirecTV show Friday Night Lights, was used by Mitt Romney as a rallying cry for last Wednesday’s debate in Denver, as this tweet and photo by the Republican presidential candidate’s son, Josh Romney, revealed:

But that was not the end of it. Romney has since used the phrase at a campaign appearance, and his wife Ann put it in a fundraising e-mail.

That got Twitter tongues a-wagging, with MSNBC’s Alex Wagner and her NBC News colleague Garrett Haake both showing off their geeky passion for the show:

Austin-based Democratic political consultant Jason Stanford took exception (and has promised to write a column on the subject):

But others were delighted with the new association:

And a valid, ostensibly non-partisan point was made by Amy Friedenberger, a University of Pittsburgh student journalist:

But if that’s the case, both campaigns are guilty:

In fact, as his supporters quickly noted, Obama crossed that rhetorical goal line first:

The president had laid claim to the phrase five months ago, when he tweeted out this picture and caption:

Clear eyes, full hearts.…

— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) May 21, 2012

Among the people chiming in was actress Stacey Oristano, a.k.a Friday Night Lights‘ Mindy Riggins (nee Mindy Colette).

(Perhaps the Romney “oppo” team should tar Obama for having the endorsement of a TV stripper.)

Of course, it almost goes without saying that the real place that inspired Friday Night Lights—i.e. Texas, and Odessa, and many other towns where high school football rules—is going to go for Romney.

And, in what appears to be an absolute coincidence, so is H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger. The author of the original non-fiction Friday Night Lights book published a column in The Daily Beast endorsing Romney Sunday night.

The Obama camp can take comfort in the fact that Bissinger played no role in creating the character of Eric Taylor, or the famous phrase.

Which means the TV show’s executive producers, Peter Berg (who has called Obama the warrior-in-chief) and Jason Katims, still might need to join the fray.

In the meantime, another FNL actress, Jurnee Smollett (who played East Dillon cheerleader-turned-equipment manager Jess Meriweather) took up for the Prez by arguing that Romney’s onscreen analogue is not Coach Taylor, but rather, his main nemesis from seasons three and four, wealthy booster and overbearing QB parent Joe McCoy.

And come to think of it, McCoy’s wife on the show was played by Texan and Tea Party activist Janine Turner, below right, looking rather Ann Romneyesque with daughter Juliette and Fox News’ Megyn Kelly.