South Carolina is not a swing state. Solidly Republican, it will vote for Mitt Romney by a large margin this November. With so many other states hanging in the balance, Team Romney doesn't need to spend any time campaigning in South Carolina.
So why would Gov. Chris Christie, a top Romney supporter and surrogate as well as the GOP convention's keynote speaker, take time out of an extremely busy schedule to visit the South Carolina delegation at the Republican convention in Tampa? It wasn't easy; the delegates stayed in a hotel far, far away from the GOP gathering site downtown. But Christie made the trek.
The answer might have something to do with the fact that South Carolina is a hugely important state in the early presidential primaries. “We pick presidents,” South Carolina Republicans like to say, and indeed, with the exception of Newt Gingrich this year, every winner of their primary has gone on to capture the GOP nomination.
So when a national politician visits South Carolinians, that visit usually has “presidential ambition” written all over it. And Christie's convention-week appearance certainly felt like a full-scale campaign stop.
Beyond discussing issues at stake in the election and his own experience as keynote speaker, Christie talked openly about strengthening his connections to this key early state.
“I've enjoyed all the time I've spent in South Carolina,” he told the group, which included delegates, members of Congress and top state politicos. “And I intend to be back, even do a town hall meeting in South Carolina. Bring the Christie town halls on the road.” As the crowd applauded, Christie said the press back home – “so parochial,” he called them -- can't grasp how South Carolinians could embrace a guy from New Jersey. It's not hard, Christie explained: “Ideas are more powerful than geography.”
Christie charmed the crowd when he told a funny, self-effacing story about the day last October when Mitt and Ann Romney came to his house to ask for his endorsement in the Republican race. When he got the call, Christie said he and his wife, working parents with four children, looked at each other in panic; their first thought was, “Oh my God, we've got to clean this house.”
Christie spoke at length, describing how his 12-year-old son, on in-line skates, zoomed up to Romney and screeched to a halt about a foot before running into the soon-to-be GOP nominee. It was the kind of personal tale, told with humor and warmth, that can really win a room. And it did.
In an interview afterward, Christie denied the visit had anything to do with political ambitions. “No,” he said. “It's about who invited me. I got an invitation.”