New Jersey Governor Chris Christie addresses the Republican National… (Jae C. Hong / AP Photo )
TAMPA, Fla. — Chris Christie put his famously combative leadership style up against a status quo in which leaders have become "paralyzed by our desire to be loved," as he made the case that Mitt Romney would tackle the nation's challenges without regard for political consequences, much as he has done as New Jersey governor.
Calling his rise as a Republican in a blue state "improbable," Christie used his keynote speech to delegates at the party's national convention to cast President Obama as too consumed with his own popularity to lead the country for another term.
Christie referred to Obama only once, but his speech was a rebuke of elected leaders like him who he said put their own political futures ahead of the people's interests. And as the campaign turns toward the finish line, Christie said, the GOP should be clear with voters about the path they would take.
"We believe that if we tell the people the truth they will act bigger than the pettiness we've seen in Washington, D.C.," he said. "We win when we make it about what needs to be done; we lose when we play along with their game of scaring and dividing."
The choice of Christie to deliver the lead political message, following a more personal speech to a national audience by Romney's wife, Ann, reflected the campaign's interest in framing the ticket as "serious about not only fixing the jobs crisis in this country, but also the fiscal crisis," senior Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom said in an interview with ABC and Yahoo News on Tuesday afternoon.
Christie has become a conservative sensation for his successful battles against Democratic interest groups like teachers unions and public employees.
"We need politicians to care more about doing something and less about being something," Christie said. "Believe me, if we can do this in a blue state like New Jersey with a conservative Republican governor, Washington is out of excuses."
After detailing his own accomplishments for some time, Christie pivoted to Romney, saying he would "tell us the hard truths we need to hear to put us back on the path to growth."
Christie's appearance came after a blip of controversy: On the eve of the convention, a New York tabloid reported that Christie had turned down Romney's invitation to join the ticket. Among the explanations: financial rules that would have forced Christie to immediately resign and, more provocatively, the governor's personal view that Romney could not win in November.
On Tuesday, in one of a spate of network interviews setting up his speech, Christie dismissed the story as "garbage."
But in the event of a Romney loss, a Christie bid in 2016 would seem likely, and Tuesday's speech could serve as a springboard — much as Obama's 2004 speech helped loft him into the 2008 race. Christie told NBC on Tuesday that he expected Romney to be accepting the nomination again in 2016. "And so then you're talking about 2020 — long, long way away."
And yet Christie's first stop in Tampa after his speech? An address to the Republican delegates from New Hampshire, home of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.