(CBS News) TAMPA, Fla. - As Republican leaders and state delegates trickled into the Tampa Bay Times Forum here Monday to get a lay of the land where they'll officially nominate the next GOP presidential candidate this week, the breakout superstar of the party's 2008 convention was serving baked beans at an Arizona barbecue dive.
Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor, who was the party's last vice presidential nominee and stunned the scene by acing her convention speech even after the teleprompter malfunctioned, announced two weeks ago she would not be attending this year's convention. Having flirted - for months longer than any other serious contender - with a presidential bid herself, Palin opted to channel her celebrity into a campaign event for Arizona congressional candidate Kirk Adams. Or, more likely, GOP nominee Mitt Romney simply didn't invite her.
Either way, after just a few short years dominating the media spotlight and electrifying crowds of thousands with her iconic brand of grassroots conservatism, Sarah Palin's moment seems to have passed.
She's not alone: The 2008 convention lineup featured speakers like Tim Pawlenty - twice now an almost-VP nominee - and Rep. Michele Bachmann, relatively fresh faces tasked with helping build the party's next generation. It was a nice contrast to the old guard of Republicans dominating the schedule: Fred Thompson, Sens. Tom Coburn and Lindsay Graham, Rudy Giuliani, and the nominee, Sen. John McCain. But four years later, Pawlenty and Bachmann have been left with one failed presidential bid each. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, another 2008 up-and-comer, has yet to find his opening to really shine.
Enter Chris Christie, the N.J. governor made famous by his refusal to hold back remarks - vulgar or otherwise - who delivered this year's convention keynote address Tuesday night and is largely expected to test a run of a his own in 2016.
"He's it - he's the rising star of the party," said Mary Beth Dougherty, a Pennsylvania delegate who originally supported Rick Santorum. Dougherty said it's Christie's "brutal honesty" that makes for both an exciting political character and an appealing elected official. "I'd love to be able to support him as a presidential candidate in the future. He tells it as it is; he says what he wants to do and he does it."