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

Michael Volpe Contributor
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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.”

Observers who spoke to The Daily Caller were effusive about Christie but equally interested in discussing Romney’s political fortunes.

While Romney has taken flak for an inability to connect with younger voters, that wasn’t an issue for 17-year-old Elizabeth Diamond. She met Romney earlier in the day. “I really enjoyed it,” Diamond told TheDC. “He made a great impression.”

Diamond said that while she’s not eligible to vote in the primary, she will cast her first presidential vote in November after she turns 18. Although the event was during the day, she said her school excused her. She attended with her mother.

Tony Kovach, a marketing director at a publishing firm, said Romney was actually his third choice in the Republican primary, behind former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Kovach said he was impressed with Gingrich’s intellect and planned to attend two Santorum events Friday.

But come November, he said, his philosophy would be “ABO: Anybody but Obama.”

Dan Rutherford, Romney’s Illinois campaign chairman, warmed up the crowd. He assured the audience that although Romney was not in Illinois for the event — he was on his way to a string of campaign events in Puerto Rico — he would be back for a full slate of Illinois events during the weekend.

Rutherford played up the familiar Romney theme of electoral invincibility, emphasizing that the former Massachusetts governor has collected more delegates than his three opponents combined.

He seemed to take special pleasure in jabbing at Santorum, pointing out that he failed to qualify to contest elections for 12 of Illinois’ 54 convention delegates. Santorum faced a similar hurdle in Ohio.

After an event that left many with the impression that Christie, not Romney, was preening like a candidate, one Democrat in the audience — Elmhurst College sophomore Tim Kushum — said he enjoyed the experience.

“It’s interesting to see how all this works in the real world, how these events look,” the political science major told TheDC.

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