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Christie's Speech Key for Romney -- and Himself

Christie's Speech Key for Romney -- and Himself

By Scott Conroy - August 28, 2012


TAMPA -- As Jon Voight strolled around the media filing center here on Tuesday morning, addressing topics ranging from daughter Angelina Jolie's impending nuptials to his distaste for President Obama, the Academy Award winner's face lit up with excitement when he was asked about tonight’s convention address by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

“Name a rock star, do you know what I mean?” Voight said. “You want him to just knock you out, and with Christie, you want him to knock you out -- just speak from his heart and let it go. He’s a little more pugilistic than most of these guys, so you want to see a little of that, don’t you? You want to see a tough guy out there calling it as it is.”

Though he is the keynote speaker rather than the party’s vice-presidential nominee, one of Christie’s primary roles at the 2012 Republican National Convention is to re-create the intensity in the room that Sarah Palin generated with her 2008 VP acceptance speech.

Christie’s speaking style and persona may be far different from Palin’s, but both Republicans share a seemingly effortless ability to fire up partisan crowds with a potent mix of ideological red meat, well-timed sarcasm, and snappy one-liners.

It was Palin’s ad-libbed riff four years ago in St. Paul about the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull that was perhaps the most memorable moment of the convention, and Christie said he may also stray from the teleprompter in his speech.

“I don’t use text, almost ever, so most of the time I think about what it is that I want to talk about, and then I get up there and talk about it,” Christie told MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough during a visit to the convention floor on Monday. “Gov. [Haley] Barbour saw one of my folks yesterday on the floor here and he told me that [Barbour] said, ‘Tell Chris to be Chris.’ And I think that’s what I’ll do. Tomorrow, if that means I stray a little off the prompter every once in a while, you know, that’s the way it goes.”

Christie’s role in firing up the troops is particularly important to the tone of a convention that on Thursday will officially coronate Mitt Romney, who has rarely revved up partisans’ heart rates with his oratory.

Since endorsing the standard-bearer last fall, Christie has proven to be a particularly effective surrogate on the stump, occasionally laying out a more emphatic and persuasive case for Romney’s candidacy than the former Massachusetts governor has himself been able to muster.

But Christie’s address on Tuesday night will also be closely watched for implications beyond 2012. Though he passed on running for president this year, the New Jersey governor is frequently mentioned as a potential White House contender in either 2016 or 2020.

It was, after all, Barack Obama’s keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston that launched the then-Illinois state senator into the political stratosphere overnight.

Having been a governor and national Republican figure for almost three years, Christie already is far more established on the national scene than Obama was eight years ago. But he nonetheless remains a blank slate to the millions of Americans who do not follow politics closely.

With his political future in mind, Christie will be tasked with balancing his famously blunt and confrontational style with a more nuanced appeal to the millions of ideologically moderate voters who will be tuning in to the convention in prime time.

At a Tuesday morning press conference, Maryland Governor and DGA Chairman Martin O’Malley previewed the Democratic line of attack against Christie, saying that he expected the GOP keynoter to deliver “angry” remarks. O’Malley also drew attention to New Jersey’s particularly high unemployment rate.

Christie’s appearance on the podium will directly follow Ann Romney’s -- another highly anticipated RNC moment. Her speech will be watched for the extent to which the former first lady of Massachusetts can humanize a man whom polls show remains opaque to large swaths of the electorate. 

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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