The New Jersey governor reflected on his keynote address at a breakfast hosted by the New Hampshire and Pennsylvania delegations, and seemed aware of chatter that his remarks were disproportionately focused on his own record and not the candidate his party had nominated just hours earlier.
Christie reminded the audience he and Mrs. Romney were scheduled to speak on different nights, but the schedule was jumbled because of the approach of Tropical Storm Isaac.
“My job last night as I saw it … was to lay out the stakes in this election and the choice in this election. As it turned out, with Mrs. Romney going first, it freed me up … to put the choice in even more general terms than I was originally going to do,” he said. “It allowed me to be able to let Ann Romney talk about Mitt Romney the person. And I thought that she did an extraordinary job.”
It was noted after Christie’s speech he mentioned Mitt Romney’s name only seven times, while using the word “I” more than three dozen. The nominee’s name wasn’t mentioned by Christie until the final third of the speech.
As Christie saw it, the candidate’s spouse is the one that should talk about him.
“That’s a really important testimonial to come from somebody who has known him for as long as she’s known him, and can talk to all of us in ways that no one else can. So I think it freed me up to talk about the choice. And I think that’s what the keynote speech is supposed to do,” he said.
Christie focused his remarks on what he’s done in New Jersey, at times working with Democrats when need be through use of the bully pulpit, to fix the state’s budget crisis. Nationally, he said leaders have become “paralyzed by our desire to be loved,” and said it was more important that elected officials be respected.
And in his only direct reference to President Obama, he said: “You see, Mr. President – real leaders don’t follow polls. Real leaders change polls.”
The keynote speech is a tricky proposition for rising Republican leaders. Some have leveraged them, as Obama did, to national prominence, while others have fallen flat.
“It’s a difficult speech to give,” former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, who delivered the Republican keynote in 1988, said in an interview before Christie addressed delegates. “You’ve got to appeal to the [crowd] here and you’ve also got to appeal, much more importantly, to a much wider audience. So you’ve got two constituencies for that speech, and you’ve got to set a stage for the presidential candidate.”
If some thought Christie’s speech was to set up a 2016 run in the event Romney loses this November, the fact that he addressed delegates from the first primary state the morning after would only further arouse those suspicions.
But Kean, who has long been close with Christie, said to take the governor at his word that he’s not yet eyeing higher office.
“He’s wanted since he was a teenager to be governor of New Jersey,” he said. “He’s got the job he’s always wanted. Why would he go elsewhere?”