Keynote Address Gives Christie His Biggest Stage
Prime-time speech to audience of millions will boost New Jersey reelection, national ambitions.
Eight years ago, an obscure Illinois state senator with a foreign-sounding name gave a keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention that drew an audience of 9.1 million, mostly on PBS, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. The major networks -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- passed up the speech, although some of their Chicago affiliates ran it live, much to the chagrin of Republican Alan Keyes who was then running against the relatively unknown Barack Obama for a U.S. Senate seat in Illinois.
The speech drew a “tepid” Nielsen rating -- less than half the audience for a typical summer prime time program, Variety noted -- but the laudatory coverage it engendered made Obama a national figure, catapulting him to a Senate victory that year and to the White House just four years later.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s keynote address to the Republican National Convention should be even bigger.
“Christie’s audience could very well be in the tens of millions. I imagine they’ll promote the hell out of this,” said Ben Dworkin, director of The Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University.
“This is an opportunity for moving beyond New Jersey, an opportunity for Christie to project his image to a true national audience, not just to the Republican activists in the room, but to the average citizen around the country who is watching and wants to see what this guy is all about. Like Obama is 2004, he may be able to catapult himself to a whole new level when he delivers his speech.”
The major networks ended their gavel-to-gavel convention coverage two decades ago, leaving the field to the new cable news networks. But Christie’s presence at the podium could entice the national networks to cover the convention for an hour that night, and Christie’s status as a “local” celebrity could very well pull in live coverage by the New York City and Philadelphia network affiliates -- the largest and fourth-largest TV markets in the nation.
Christie did a virtual victory lap when his YouTube viewership topped 5 million earlier this year. Now he could draw 15 million or more viewers in a single night. And that doesn’t count the additional millions he will draw when he goes on Good Morning America, Meet the Press,Face the Nation, National Public Radio, and all the other programs that Obama hit before and after his convention speech.
“It makes sense for the Romney campaign to use Chris Christie like this because the governor is like the Beatles in terms of politics. He just looks different and sounds different than anyone else out there,” Dworkin noted. “And he’s really good at articulating a particular vision for what Republican leadership means, and he’s particularly adept at attacking those who would stand in the way of Republican progress.”
Christie stands to benefit much more from his prime time address than New Jersey’s last two keynotes: Republican Gov. Thomas H. Kean’s 1988 speech was a valedictory given seven years into his governorship when no political experts expected him to run for national office, and U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley’s address at the 1992 Democratic National Convention was given by a New Jerseyan whose fame at the time equaled Christie’s, but whose political star had been tarnished by the narrowness of his victory over an unknown, underfunded Christine Todd Whitman two years before.
Christie is up for reelection next year, in 2013, and his selection as keynote speaker will dominate the New Jersey media for the next three weeks, just as speculation over whether he would run for president consumed the media last summer and into the fall, followed by months of stories over whether Romney would choose him for vice president.
“Heading into a gubernatorial year, this kind of national publicity only helps Chris Christie,” Dworkin said. “Every time the national press has covered him and fawned over him, his popularity numbers in New Jersey go up” -- and Christie is already consistently over 55 percent in the approval rating, the Rider University professor noted.
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