It is the moment of truth for Mitt Romney, but this week was also crucial for the future of a rising star in the Republican Party, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.
And his turn as the keynote speaker at the Republican Convention will no doubt put him on the radar of the national GOP. The question: How did he do?
Christie had to do three things: promote himself, promote Mitt Romney, and attack the president.
The first thing he did very well. Framing the beginning of his talk around his mother was endearing, and at the same time he managed to explain where he got his own tough-guy persona. “She spoke the truth bluntly, directly, without much varnish,” he said, and added with great effect, “I am her son.”
It’s a story that I’ve heard him tell before at town meetings, and he does it beautifully
The governor then pivoted to politics, and told how he took on New Jersey’s teachers union, how he managed to cut taxes and balance the budget, etc. It is the keynoter’s job to tell his own story. But he did it in such a way that might make delegates think “Hey, let’s remember this guy in 2016 if the other guy flops!”
As for promoting Romney, critics say he took his sweet time. He mentioned Romney seven times, and not till more than 16 minutes into a 24 minute address. But he was drawing broad distinctions between Republicans and Democrats, and it actually was a pleasure not to hear the boilerplate political attacks. One line the delegates loved: “Their plan: whistle a happy tune while driving us off the fiscal cliff.”
The speech was pure Christie: tough-talking in a classic New Jersey style. “Our leaders have decided it is more important to be popular, to do what is easy and to say yes, rather than to say no when no is what’s required.”
In some ways Christie revels in being the anti-politician, and that’s exactly what this audience in Tampa was looking to hear. Christie positioned himself nicely for a future presidential run. But did his speech help Mitt Romney?
It certainly helped the GOP nominee’s base, with all the red meat thrown in. But this race now goes beyond the base. The choice of Paul Ryan as the vice presidential nominee may have smartened up the public dialogue, but it changed the subject, from the economy to Medicare. And that’s not the debate the Republicans want to have now.
This race will be about a very small portion of the population that is still undecided.
The core target demographic for both sides is women who like Obama but are not happy with the direction the country is going in. Which way will they go in the fall? The answer to that question could decide the election.