Big expectations for Christie's convention address

Christie says his speech will establish a vision for his party over the next four years.
Christie says his speech will establish a vision for his party over the next four years. (J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE / AP)
Posted: August 29, 2012

TAMPA - Gov. Christie needs to make Mitt Romney more likable. He needs to woo independents and moderates while firing up the conservative Republican base and feeding red meat to the tea party.

He may wish to lay the groundwork for a possible presidential bid in 2016 or 2020, but he must not appear too eager. He must brag about his New Jersey accomplishments so he can run for reelection, but he must not distract from Romney's accomplishments.

And he needs to do it all in 20 minutes.

Such are the expectations, culled from pundits' tips and Republicans' hopes, for Christie's nationally televised keynote address at the GOP convention Tuesday night.

Little wonder the speech has been through 14 drafts.

"You all overthink this stuff," a relaxed Christie said Monday in an hour-long interview with the New Jersey press corps at a hotel meeting room high above windswept Tampa Bay. "I'm going to go out there and be myself."

That's why fewer than 10 people have read his speech, he says - he wants to protect his voice from too much input.

Romney's people read it and returned it, sans red ink. "They like it, and told me to go get 'em," Christie said.

That 14th draft was sent off to the teleprompter operator Monday. Yet one thing remains unsettled: He and Mary Pat, his wife, have to choose from one of six ties.

The 49-year-old governor offered few other details beyond saying the keynote establishes a "vision for our party over the next four years." So what to expect as he stands in front of tens of thousands and an estimated 20 million Americans watching at home?

Expect Christie to hold both sides of the lectern, lifting them only to drive home a point with his hands.

Expect attacks on President Obama. Christie might call him a "Chicago ward politician," as he did at a rally here Monday. Or he might hit him on bipartisanship, for his supposed inability to deal with Republican leaders in Congress in the same way Republican Christie works with Democrats in Trenton.

Christie will likely offer a bit of his own biography, maybe about his family's moving from Newark when he was 5 for better schools and the American dream, and how that inspired him to tackle teacher unions.

These are Christie's "hard truths." While other politicians lie, he may argue, Romney and Republicans will tell the truth about deficits, social programs, and education. Maybe he'll tell the well-worn anecdote about getting booed at a firefighters' convention while trying to cut pensions.

To the North Carolina delegation on Monday, he said: "The problems are too big and too grave for politicians who are not straightforward with you."

To reporters Monday, he said: "I will be myself tomorrow night and say things that need to be said."

Those things won't include specific policy proposals. Being Christie is more about how things come out, not what comes out.

This week in Tampa, Christie has played up the tough-guy Jersey shtick that people around the country have come to expect from clips of his encounters with hecklers, constituents, and reporters.

At a rally for the California delegation Monday, former gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman recalled how Christie had heckled one of her hecklers: "I was just thrilled to death to be defended by Chris Christie."

"You got a bully in the room, you got two choices," Christie told the crowd. "Either sidle up next to him or punch him in the face first. I punched him in the face."

At a breakfast for North Carolina Republicans, Christie said they needed to work for a Romney win - or else. "You don't want an angry Chris Christie coming back to North Carolina," he said. If North Carolina doesn't vote for Romney, "we're going to give you some Jersey-style treatment. You don't want that."

Later, Christie scoffed at the suggestion that he was evoking The Sopranos. He said he uses different rhetoric for different audiences.

"I'm going to go out there and be myself, and so far that's been really attractive to the base, and really attractive to independents," he said of his keynote speech.

There will be one difference Tuesday. Christie will use a teleprompter, unusual for this typically extemporaneous speaker. Still, he didn't rule out going off-script.

Christie's ability to read an audience once led to a spur-of-the-moment reminiscence at a town-hall meeting. He told the story of his last conversation with his mother, in which she told him that there was "nothing left unsaid" between them. That story became a regular feature of his town hall meetings; it has also brought audience members to tears.

On Monday, Christie said he was uncomfortable when he first told the story. But audiences related to it. And that, he suggested, is what Romney can do between now and Nov. 6.

"Part of the way that people get to know who you are is to discuss the things that make you most uncomfortable," Christie said. "Let the American people get to see him, see his heart, know who he is."

The American people will also get to know Christie this week, too. Just turn on CBS, NBC, or ABC just after 7 a.m. Tuesday, when Christie's taped interviews are scheduled to air.

Of course, with limelight comes scrutiny. Two unfavorable stories landed Monday on the eve of the keynote. The New York Post front page, with the headline "Fat Chance," cited unnamed sources in alleging that Romney, concerned about a law that limits campaign donations to sitting governors, had wanted Christie to quit as governor and be his running mate. Christie said no, according to the Post, because he thinks Romney is going to lose.

"It's just completely false," Christie said Monday. "A, I was never offered the vice presidency. B, I never turned it down. C, I never thought in my mind that a factor . . . was that I decided he couldn't win."

Also on Tuesday, Bloomberg News reported that Christie has recently gained weight. "If that's what people are fascinated with, that's fine," he said. "You get picked apart and caricatured. If you can't handle it, you get out."

Christie has described himself as the third most prominent Republican in the country. Besides Romney and vice-presidential nominee U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), "just about anyone would trade with me at this moment for my position in the national Republican party," he said last week.

An indication of Christie's national appeal: The Inquirer Pennsylvania Poll, led by a bipartisan team of top political analysts, found last week that voters in the Philadelphia region were more familiar with him than with their own governor, Tom Corbett - and give him a better favorability rating.

"What it says is, politicians need to be more like Chris Christie," said Adam Geller, a Republican who handled the poll for National Research Inc. "That's really the instructive part of this tour de force that is Gov. Christie. This is a guy who is comfortable in his own skin, who really does away with the conventions and techniques and all the other stuff that politicians learn in politician school."

Christie's class at politician school begins Tuesday at 10:30 p.m.


Keep up with the latest on the GOP convention - including live reports from The Inquirer's Thomas Fitzgerald and Matt Katz - at www.philly.com/conventions


Contact Matt Katz at 609-217-8355 or mkatz@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @mattkatz00. Read his blog, "Christie Chronicles," at www.philly.com/christiechronicles

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