PALM HARBOR — If the main hope of Republicans was that a speech would be delivered this week that would personalize Mitt Romney for Americans, it very well could have been the one Thursday in a hotel ballroom 50 minutes away from the Republican National Convention.
During a 30-minute speech that sounded at times more like a stand-up comedy routine, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spoke of Romney in personal terms as someone who doted on children and who was unrecognizable from the awkward plutocrat many have characterized him as being.
In an elaborate setup, Christie weaved a long personal anecdote about meeting Romney in October at his New Jersey home to talk about supporting his candidacy. The Florida delegation roared with laughter as Christie talked about a mad scramble to clean up his home, made all the more messy by his four children. Christie said his 12-year-old son nearly slammed into Romney while on his inline skates. Later, Christie's daughter showed off her gymnastics, enthralling Romney with somersaults and cartwheels.
Christie said Romney spent the next 2½ hours being entertained by them.
"You can't fake that," Christie said. "What I saw that day from Mitt Romney you can't fake. What it told me is this really is an involved father and a doting grandfather. This is a man with a good heart. He's characterized so often unfairly as kind of this CEO, reserved person who doesn't show his heart. I saw his heart that day. You can't fake it with children. Children don't accept being faked with. If someone is fake with them, they'll just walk away. … If I had any doubt in my mind, after that interaction with my children, I had no doubt left."
The story had the delegates happily buzzing afterward, leaving them almost wistful that it didn't come Tuesday night, when Christie delivered his keynote speech at the RNC.
"If (Thursday's) speech had been broadcast live in prime time, he would have swung the election to the independents," said Blaise Ingoglia, vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.
"It was a better speech," said Art Wood, the chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party.