In convention speech, a test for Chris Christie

Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (L) shakes hands with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie during a rally at Exeter High School on January 8, 2012 in Exeter, New Hampshire.
Justin Sullivan

(CBS News) As Republicans from across the country descend on Tampa for the party's official nominating convention, Chris Christie will be preparing for his big moment: The famously outspoken Republican governor of New Jersey, and a rising star of the GOP, will deliver the convention's keynote speech - a role that's known for catapulting politicians into the national spotlight as much as for pumping up the presumptive party's nominee.

Admired though he is for his rhetorical abilities, Christie faces a delicate balancing act in Tampa. In terms of style, he and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney could hardly be more different: Where Christie is unusually loose-lipped and prone to searing criticism -- he's been known to mock everyone from journalists to fellow Republicans -- Romney is viewed as cautious and controlled.

"The keynote speech is always a mix of the personal attributes and qualities of the speaker," said one Democratic strategist who has worked with Democrats on convention speeches in the past. "In this case, it's a guy who's clearly got a big future ahead in the Republican Party. But his message is going to be carefully calibrated and controlled by the nominee. Governor Christie, in order to give a home-run speech, really has to make it his own."

On Tuesday, Christie will prove whether or not he can do both.

Making it Matter

Presidential nominating conventions are rife with political fanfare, but the keynote speaking role is one in which each party has the opportunity to showcase one of their most exciting up-and-comers.

Under less pressure than the nominee or the vice presidential candidate to give a policy-heavy address, the keynote speaker has an opportunity to generate enthusiasm among the base, according to David Demarest, a White House communications director during the George H. W. Bush administration now at Stanford University. "Look at what Ann Richards did," he said, referring to her now-famous "silver spoon" comment at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. "She just really lit that convention up."

Still, Christie is bound to face constraints in the tone, nature, and content of his remarks. In the age of the 24-hour news cycle, little in presidential politics is left to chance -- and convention keynote speeches have been tightly controlled for much of of modern history.


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