Byron York

But Christie gets lots of invitations. Why pick this one? “People will speculate about my career for as long as I'm around,” Christie answered. “No matter how many times I told people I wasn't running for president, nobody believed me. I wasn't. As many times as I told people I didn't want to be vice president, they didn't believe me. I didn't want to be. People will speculate all they like, but for me, what's most important is what you actually do, and I've worked very hard for Gov. Romney, I have great faith in him, I consider him a great friend, and I think he's going to be the next president.”

There was nothing in that answer to deny any designs on higher office.

Future GOP hopefuls are walking a fine line. Preparing a 2016 run would mean assuming Romney loses. That can't be done, at least publicly. So hopefuls work for the ticket and lay the foundation for 2020. Of course, if Romney does lose, they'll be ready for '16.

“This is one of the few places you can network and start laying the groundwork for whatever happens later on,” says Katon Dawson, a former South Carolina party chairman who attended the breakfast. “We certainly expect and anticipate that Gov. Romney will be the next president, and we're all going to work very hard. But I've never seen a politician miss a chance to come into an audience that is an early primary state, and not put those feelers out.”

Christie wasn't the only up-and-comer to pay his respects to South Carolina. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also visited the delegates during the convention. And South Carolina wasn't the only state to receive attention. Christie's schedule also included a visit to -- of all places -- the New Hampshire delegation.

The 2012 finale may still be two months away, but 2016 and 2020 are already here.

Byron York

Byron York, chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner