Several months ago, Ben Dworkin, a political science professor at Rider University in N.J., predicted that Gov. Chris Christie would be the keynote speaker at the National Republican Convention, not the vice-presidential candidate. This was contrary to conventional thought and Dworkin, who serves as the director of the New Jersey Institute for Politics, was spot on in his assessment of Christie’s national appeal. The Republican governor has helped the party to break orbit from its Southern base, Dworkin said during an interview after last night’s speech.
“He’s like the Beatles when they first arrived in America, there was nothing else out there quite like them,” he observed. “Christie is a rock star; he has his own unique style. Because he has become national figure, he has also become a point of pride for people in New Jersey, not just Republicans.”
Just a few years ago, the idea that New Jersey, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts would serve as the platform for leading Republican figures would have been unthinkable, he added.
In addition to having former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as the presidential nominee, the Republicans also have Sen. Scott Brown occupying the “people’s seat” previously held by Ted Kennedy. Rep. Paul Ryan is from Wisconsin, where the polls are tightening. In Gov. Christie’s New Jersey, leaders in both parties prevailed over entrenched opposition.
“They said it was impossible to speak the truth to the teachers union,” Christie said during his keynote. “They were just too powerful. Real teacher tenure reform that demands accountability and ends the guarantee of a job for life regardless of performance would never happen. For the first time in 100 years with bipartisan support, we did it.”
Even so, there are political landmines Christie must navigate his way through in the not too distant future, Dworkin said.
“Of course, upon his return to New Jersey, he will still have to deal with 9.8% unemployment and the possible mid-year budget cuts totaling hundreds of millions of dollars resulting from anticipated revenues falling far shorter than expected,” Dworkin said. “The poll numbers and excitement stemming from tonight’s success will eventually dissipate but the harsh realities of New Jersey’s economy will still be here.”
Dworkin also suggested that Christie’s crowd-pleasing maneuver at the end of the speech should be a point of concern to Romney campaign operatives.
“I found that the Governor’s rift at the end calling on the convention body to ‘stand with me’ made it oddly about Christie, at the very moment when the focus needed to be on Romney,” he said. “It seemed curious that the Romney folks allowed that to stay in.”
But Foster Lowe, a Republican delegate from Bergen County, disagreed.
“Christie was one of the first, if not the first, major elected official to endorse Romney,” Lowe said. “He has also been criticized by the New Jersey Democrats for going out of state to campaign for Romney. He was asked to give the keynote because he has a compelling story to tell. It was clear to me that his goal was to boost the Romney-Ryan ticket.”