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In the Spotlight of the RNC, The Garden State Blossoms

Thursday, August 30, 2012

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie addresses the 2012 Republican National Convention (Getty)

Once Clint Eastwood came out center stage in Tampa to interrogate an empty chair that represented President Barack Obama the New Jersey delegation never sat down.

"Twenty-three million people unemployed is a national disgrace," said Eastwood. "We own this country. Politicians are employees of ours and when somebody doesn't do the job we have to let them got." That line prompted a spontaneous chant of "let him go, let him go."

By the time former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney worked his way to the stage the Jersey Republicans were pumped.

"One of six Americans is living in poverty," Romney said. "America's been patient now it is time to turn the page."

But the line that resonated with the New Jersey delegation was when Romney said, "President Obama promised to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family."

When the speech ended, Governor Christie stood next to the New Jersey delegate standard as balloons randomly bounced off the crowd.

"What we do is leave here united," Christie said.

Christie's top strategist, Mike DuHaime, said Romney had targeted his remarks to the crucial swing voters who had voted for President Obama. "They like the president. They are rooting for him, but things are not getting better."

After the week at the Republican National Convention, New Jersey’s delegates appear pumped for the November election. The prominent role Christie played as the keynote, and New Jersey’s rising stock in the national party, got the hundreds of honorary delegates that came ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

Ed McCarthy, an alternate delegate from Chester, was glad he made the trip. "You can feel the change in the air. There are a lot of things wrong with the country," McCarthy said.

New Jersey Attendance at this year’s convention was double what it was in 2008, according to N.J. GOP National Committeeman Bill Palatucci.  He said drawing the 500 or so honorary delegates and their families was a great party building tool.

"We now have one of the largest delegations in the country," Palatucci said. "If Chris Christie can win in a blue state like New Jersey, Mitt Romney and others have a chance across the Country." 

It also brought them some visibility. On Thursday morning, Reince Priebus, the Republican's National Chairman, had breakfast with the delegation, thanking them for electing Christie and giving them a preview of the GOP argument against Obama.

"I happen to believe Barack Obama has a problem with the American Dream,” Priebus told the NJ contingent. “I don't get it. I don't understand the attack on success."

But some of the more conservative red meat on social issues dispensed from the podium on social issues caused moderate Jersey Republicans to wince. The New Jersey GOP is actually running a pro-choice candidate State Senator Joe Kryllos against Senator Robert Menendez.

Former Gov. Tom Kean, for one, thought the party should take the momentum from the convention and use it to expand the tent to include a broader cross section of the nation.

"You know the family values in Latino families are very close to the kind of family values Republicans talk about all the time," Kean said. "There's a lot of ability to reach out."

The GOP should not concede African Americans either, Kean argued, noting that he carried 60 percent of the black vote when he was elected. "I did it focusing on education, jobs and crime," Kean said.

Bergen County GOP chair Bob Yudin said his county is so ethnically diverse it’s essential to reach out beyond the GOP's traditional base. He's been recruiting Latino and Korean-American candidates to run for office.

As co-chair of the Republican Governor's Association, Christie has been able to ensure that he’s at the table shaping the party’s long term strategy well beyond 2012.

Currently, the GOP has 29 of the nation's governorships — 21 of them elected since 2010. Republicans also appear to have a complete lock on state legislatures and governorships in 20 states compared to only eleven for the Democrats.

Republican strategist Roger Stone observed that historically control of the governorships can give a party a significant tactical advantage in a national Presidential contest. "We took a beating in 1958 and that set the stage for Kennedy to squeak by Nixon in 1960," Stone said.

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