New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his wife, Mary Pat, at a soundcheck during… (Scott Olson / Getty Images )
TAMPA, Fla. — When he delivers a keynote address at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie can be expected to draw on the brash style that has endeared him to the party faithful nationwide.
But Christie began his day with a speech that, while true in many ways to his own persona, also included a more personal testimonial on behalf of Mitt Romney and his character.
Speaking to members of Romney’s home-state Michigan delegation at their hotel just a short walk from the convention center, Christie shared the story of when Romney personally lobbied for his endorsement last fall, and managed to win over his youngest daughter Bridget in the process.
Beyond the qualifications to be president, which Romney possesses, Christie said “you need to know what the heart is of the person sitting behind the desk.” And for him, Romney has the right stuff.
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“This is not some detached business person. This is an involved father and a doting grandfather,” Christie said.
Christie declined to offer much in the way of a preview of his remarks tonight, either to the Michigan delegation, the network morning-show anchors who interviewed him earlier, or to a gaggle of reporters who trailed him later as he walked the convention floor after sizing up the stage he’ll speak from this evening.
But one thing was clear: He’s ready.
“I’m just hoping to break out of my shell tonight,” he joked. “I think by 10:30 tonight I’m going to be a little bit like that horse in the gate at the Kentucky Derby, waiting for the bell to go, banging up against the gate trying to get out there.”
Christie will draw on his experience over 2½ years as a Republican in what has become a heavily Democratic state, compromising when possible but using the bully pulpit as necessary to push through initiatives such as teacher tenure and property tax reform.
On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Christie downplayed expectations.
“I think if the American people watch tonight, leave the speech by saying, ‘Yep, that's him, that's who I heard about, seems genuine to me,’ then I think I will have done my job for me,” he said. “And if they say, ‘I like the vision he's laid out for the country and for his party for the next four years,’ then I will have done the job for my party and my country.”
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What’s more important to Republicans is that Christie sell them on Romney’s vision, and that voters see him as genuine. The challenge for the keynoter, especially someone like Christie, is to put one’s personal ambition in check.
That was the backstory as Christie was asked on NBC’s “Today” show about a New York Post report that claimed he declined Romney’s invitation to join the ticket as his running mate because he didn’t think he could win. “Complete garbage,” Christie responded.
“I'm telling you categorically, absolutely untrue. I've been working hard for Mitt Romney for the last nearly a year. I've traveled to 15 states across the country. I absolutely believe he can win and will win.”