On Illinois stump, Christie sounds more like candidate than Romney surrogate

ELMHURST, Ill. — With just four days remaining until the Illinois GOP primary, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign brought out its biggest gun — Chris Christie. But the New Jersey governor, known for his pugnacious manner and no-nonsense outlook, delivered an address that sounded more like a plug for his own presidential bona fides.

“When I ran in 2009, we had not elected a Republican in 12 years, and I was running against a guy that was going to outspend me three to one,” Christie recalled. “They said ‘it’s not possible for a Republican to get elected in New Jersey. It’s especially not possible for a conservative Republican to get elected in New Jersey.’”

“Well, here I am.”

Christie’s focus on his own resume instead of Romney’s was an unusual turn for a political surrogate. Tight “delegate math” this year has already generated discussion about the possibility of a brokered GOP convention in which anyone — including Christie himself — could emerge as a consensus candidate in August.

Christie played up what he said were dour predictions about his chances of governing traditionally liberal New Jersey from the right.

“They said, ‘It’s going to be impossible for him to govern as a conservative Republican. He won’t be able to do it. He’s got a Democratic legislature, and Democratic liberal media. They’re just going to beat him senseless where he’s just going to have to give in and govern like a Democrat.’”

But he turned deficit into surpluses, cut taxes and reformed pension funds in New Jersey, Christie boasted. Now, he said, the New Jersey legislature is fighting with him over which taxes to cut. (RELATED: Full coverage of the Romney campaign)

Again promoting his own political exceptionalism instead of Romney’s, Christie took a shot at Illinois Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn for doing the opposite.

“Here’s the difference between Republican governance and Democratic governance,” Christie said. “Quinn raised your taxes. I vetoed the tax increase in New Jersey, twice.”

It was Christie’s biggest applause line during the Friday address, delivered to a crowd of about 500 at Elmhurst College, about 20 miles west of Chicago.

Christie eventually did bring his narrative back to Gov. Romney, but his stump-speech delivery lacked the charismatic enthusiasm of his earlier self-promotion, and he praised Romney by comparing the GOP front-runner to himself.

“I absolutely believe in my heart that the same type of strong leadership [as mine] in the Oval Office can produce the same type of results for America. And Illinois, you’re going to turn the corner for Mitt Romney on Tuesday and said that type of strong leader to the White House for us.”