By Dan Balz –
TAMPA — Mitt Romney may be the Republican Party’s presidential nominee and Paul Ryan the running mate, but Chris Christie takes a back seat to no one in the GOP.
The New Jersey governor was once a possible rival to Romney. Although he insisted that he didn’t think he was ready to be president, Christie had to keep swatting away speculation and encouragement to jump into the race at a time when the party was still learning to love Romney.
Christie had a tough assignment on Tuesday night. He was the wrap-up speaker on opening night of the Republican National Convention and had the misfortune of appearing after Ann Romney, whose testimony in behalf of her husband connected with the audience, and then the visit to the convention hall by the nominee.
But it was Christie who helped inject some much-needed energy into an arena that had been surprisingly subdued through the early evening. He came on stage punching the air. He clapped as he approached the lectern, returning the welcome he received from the delegates as if to say: Wake up, Republicans. He demanded that they stand up, and they did.
The governor is a politician and an entertainer. On Tuesday, he was on better behavior at the Tampa Bay Times Forum arena than he sometimes is when he is on the loose in his state. He was more dialed down than over the top.
But Tuesday’s stage was the biggest of his political career, and as he spoke he was being measured not just as a surrogate for the Republican ticket but as part of the GOP’s rising generation and a possible future presidential candidate, depending on what happens in November.