Will Christie keep up the swagger?

Posted: September 03, 2012

TAMPA - In a warm-up speech before his keynote address at the Republican convention, Gov. Christie was giving the North Carolina delegation a pretty spot-on Southern accent. That followed a touching story about the Romneys coming over to the Christies' for lunch.

And then, at the end, he gave them Jersey.

"I don't want to get nasty early in the morning," he said to applause from a breakfast crowd that evidently wanted him to get nasty.

But, he said, if they don't get out the vote for Mitt Romney on Nov. 6, there would be consequences.

"You let me down? I know enough about North Carolina, I know where to find you. And you do not want an angry Chris Christie coming back to North Carolina on Nov. 7. I'm going to find [state GOP chairman Robin Hayes] first and he's going to name names of who didn't deliver. And then we're going to make some rounds. And we're going to give you some Jersey-style treatment. You don't want that now, I guarantee it."

Asked afterward if he was invoking The Sopranos, Christie scoffed and said he wasn't.

But to a few ears in the crowd, "Jersey-style treatment" sounded a lot like what Christopher and Paulie Walnuts try to do to the Russian in the Pinelands in Season 3.

Christie makes self-deprecating weight jokes; certainly he's free to make self-deprecating jokes about the place he has lived most of his life.

But the rub is that he is also the state's chief defender. He has made national news for railing against stereotypes perpetrated by such shows as The Real Housewives of New Jersey and Jersey Shore. He says his administration has spruced up the image of the state, making it known for things like fiscal responsibility and strong political leadership.

In his last stop before he left for Tampa, he told a crowd on the promenade in Sea Isle City that New Jersey is now mentioned more often on Sunday morning news shows than on late-night TV. And his role as the GOP convention keynote speaker, he argued, spoke to the newfound national respect for the Garden State.

He made the same case earlier this year in Atlantic City: "For far too long over the last decade, New Jersey was more of a punch line on the late-night talk shows and other places, right? You know, The Sopranos, Real Housewives of New Jersey, and, God forbid, Jersey Shore."

In fact he has repeated this line so many times that last year Snooki responded, declaring over Twitter that she would never vote for him.

So it was striking to see, in early July, the TMZ.com gossip site air that now-famous video of Christie going after a heckler on the Jersey Shore - in Seaside Heights, the very town where the Jersey Shore crew has fought and frolicked for several seasons.

Christie doesn't perpetuate all of the Jersey stereotypes. As a former federal prosecutor who cut his teeth going after dirty politicians, he has arguably done more than any other modern New Jerseyan to wash away the stain of corruption for which the state has long been known. He has boosted investment in a marketing campaign for Atlantic City, promoting it as the country's only oceanside casino resort - which could serve to lift the wildly unfair reputation of New Jersey as one big polluted brownfield dotted with smokestacks.

But the other reputation? The one that says Jersey is rough-and-tumble, with an eye-for-an-eye grittiness and a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude? Recently, Christie has been played that up more and more for laughs in front of crowds around the country.

Here in Tampa, he told the South Carolina and Florida delegations that when he lunched with Romney last year and offered his endorsement, he didn't ask anything in return - even though the presidential candidate could have gotten "shaken down."

After all, it is Jersey.

And when asked why he fist-pumped his way to the stage for his Tuesday keynote speech, he told reporters: "They were showing me great respect and great enthusiasm and I was showing them the same thing back. That was called being polite, Jersey-style."

The fist pump, of course, is also the signature dance move of Jersey Shore.

Fortunately for Christie, MTV announced last week that Jersey Shore's final season is coming up. So he won't have to worry about the perpetuation of that situation.

Maybe the show's end will enable Christie to turn the page, too - to invoke a Jersey style more on the lines of what he told the North Carolinians at the end of his remarks last week.

He said that if they do win their state for Romney on Nov. 6, "I'm going to be happy to come back to North Carolina Nov. 7 - and give you a big New Jersey hug."

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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