With his endorsement of Mitt Romney in October, Chris Christie showed off his political skills by making the case for the now-presumptive Republican nominee more concisely and emphatically than just about anyone had to that point.
As Christie addressed a packed house of reporters just hours before Romney squared off in a debate with his rivals in Hanover, N.H., several of the candidate's senior aides smiled broadly and exchanged knowing glances. The reason: The charismatic New Jersey governor effortlessly defended Romney's controversial Massachusetts health care plan in a way that Romney himself had struggled to do for months.
"Mitt Romney is the man we need to lead America, and we need him now," Christie said in summing up his case.
It was the kind of comment that would have sounded pedestrian if uttered by almost any other politician, but in this case it had an impact, largely because of how Christie said it. And that intangible ability to connect with his audience is at the heart of his appeal.
Christie possesses several of the attributes considered essential for a vice-presidential candidate: He's accomplished, media-savvy, perceived as a strong leader, eager to play the attack dog role, and is adept at singing the praises of the man at the top of the ticket convincingly and without equivocation.
Watch CBS News political director John Dickerson's politics week-in-review webcast in the video to the left.
His most glaring drawback as a potential running mate is perhaps his penchant for outshining everyone in the room -- a concern to which he lent credence in an interview last year on "Meet the Press."
"Can you imagine? The person who picked me as vice president would have to be sedated," Christie said. "I'm not vice-presidential material."
Since then, his public pronouncements when asked the VP question have mellowed -- to the point of sounding increasingly open to the possibility that Romney might indeed call his name.
Though Christie has taken full advantage of his confrontational and irreverent style to amass considerable star power among conservatives nationwide, advisers note that his success in the Garden State is based far more on substance than sizzle.
Christie took office in 2009 promising to balance the state's budget, restructure its pension system and tackle education reform. Though the pushback from opponents in the deep-blue state has been vocal and extensive, his approval rating has increased as he implemented his first two major goals and brought the third to the top of his current agenda.
A Farleigh-Dickinson poll released last month showed Christie's approval rating in New Jersey had risen to 56 percent, while only 33 percent disapproved -- a sizable increase from the previous year when 44 percent approved and 44 disapproved of his job performance.
"One of his great strengths is that he's focused on the big things that'll really make a difference in the state," said Christie adviser Bob Grady.
Grady shrugged off the governor's previous suggestions that he would not make a suitable second fiddle to anyone. "He's been a leader and aggressive in pursuing his own positions, but I don't think that's an issue," he said. "At the end of the day, it's Gov. Romney's choice, and I don't think [Christie's] campaigning for the job. I think he's doing the best job he can for New Jersey, but he's obviously been very supportive of Mitt."
Christie's blue-collar sensibilities and informal demeanor on the stump might make for a nice complement to the at times awkward and inaccessible Romney, but one concern is that his Jersey roots would not add much in the way of geographical diversity to the ticket.
Bruce Rastetter, a prominent Iowa Republican fundraiser who helped lead the failed effort to draft Christie into the presidential race last year, professed not to have any misgivings about pairing two northeasterners.
"I think he plays well in the Midwest, and his honesty plays well across the country," said Rastetter, who last spoke with Christie at a Romney fundraiser last week. "He's proven that he was able to fix a state that was in economic trouble and in such a way that he would have to work across the aisle with Democrats, and he did it in a way that was fiscally responsible in a state that had a terrible track record for that."
In addition to his enthusiastic supporter base that extends far beyond the reaches of the New Jersey Turnpike, Christie has had his share of conservative detractors, who argue that his eagerness to confront Democrats in front of the cameras amounts to idle bluster and masks a relatively moderate record.
Christie has drawn suspicion among some on the right for his statements about the role of human activity in climate change, and his support for an assault weapons ban and opposition to concealed-carry laws; those latter positions prompted concern within the highest echelons of the National Rifle Association about his commitment to gun rights.
In a recent column, The National Review's Andrew McCarthy called Christie "wildly overrated" and a "cardboard cut-out northeastern GOP moderate proponent of progressive taxation and the welfare state."
"Sure, his YouTube smackdowns of overmatched lefty hacks are catnip for the Right," McCarthy wrote. "The routine gets old fast, though. The tantrums have become as mundane as 'Pass the salt.' "
But the skeptics seem to be in the minority, as Christie remains one of the biggest draws for national Republicans on the fundraising circuit and a favorite of many conservative opinion-makers who believe that the GOP ticket needs a personality boost.
Writing in the Washington Post this week, columnist Michael Gerson glowed that Christie stood out in the Republican vice presidential field, citing something in his manner that captures the essence of his appeal.
"When he takes off his jacket at a town hall meeting, someone is in for a rough ride," Gerson wrote. "But his most exceptional political skill is not confrontation but explanation -- educating voters in the grim realities of state budgeting, public pensions, unfunded liabilities and teacher union obstructionism. He is both pugilist and professor -- a good vice presidential combination."
Whether or not he is asked to join a ticket, Christie is poised to remain one of Romney's most visible and active supporters and a likely prospect for national office for the foreseeable future.
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