Chris Christie as Mitt Romney's VP may have reminded voters of Sarah Palin
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Back to town halls in Piscataway; forget about national debates in prime time. Back to defending criticism from the likes of Loretta Weinberg, senator from Bergen County; forget about high-profile attacks from the leader of the free world.
Gov. Christie's star fell back to earth Saturday after a year of speculation about whether he would run for national office.
In the fall, Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state, told Christie he should be president. Nancy Reagan escorted him onto a California stage for a speech that prognosticators thought was an audition for his candidacy.
When he finally told America he wasn't running, at least not yet, what followed were questions, ad infinitum, about whether he was going to run for vice president.
Now those questions are answered. The first-term New Jersey governor and GOP hotshot will likely get a consolation prize -- keynote speaker at a convention that is sure to nominate Mitt Romney and the running mate he announced Saturday, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
Christie got farther than many political experts could have imagined. He reportedly cracked the top five on Romney's vice-presidential list. That is not bad for a rookie governor from the 11th-biggest state (and a blue state, at that) who rose from unelected obscurity to become one of the most in-demand Republicans of the Obama years.
Christie was considered a viable No. 2 because of his immense popularity among Republicans around the country. His resume includes winning terrorism cases as U.S. attorney and signing fiscally conservative laws as governor. He doesn't sound or look like a politician. And he is strong where Romney is weak: on his feet dealing with the media; attacking foes in a pointed and often funny way.
But Christie's uniqueness also may have gotten in the way. Blame Sarah Palin. Memories of Sen. John McCain's "game-changing" running mate loomed large in this selection process. A governor with only a few years in office might have reminded voters of Palin, skeptics said.
Palin and Christie are not politically similar. But both are prone to being distractions.
The fact that Christie showed up on the front page of the TMZ gossip website last month, in the middle of the "veepstakes," probably didn't help. Video TMZ obtained made it look as though Christie was going to attack a heckler at the Shore.
It wasn't an isolated incident. A few months ago, he called a Navy SEAL an "idiot." Would button-down Romney want to worry about say-anything Christie? Though the Christie shtick still plays exceptionally well in New Jersey, polls show, it may be too Jersey for Ohio or Tennessee.
Also of possible concern: Christie's weight, and whether it would signal to voters that he was too unhealthy to do what vice presidents sometimes must: Take over on short notice.
In June, a series in the New York Times connected Christie to a private company with a spotty record of running halfway houses for prisoners in the state. It was unwelcome attention for a vice-presidential hopeful. Also in June, a potential major legislative victory -- a tax cut for overtaxed New Jerseyans -- slipped through his fingers.
Formerly a supporter of abortion rights, with a record of favorable comments about gun control and Muslims that trouble some elements of the GOP base, Christie may not have passed the conservative sniff test, either.
But he is still one of his party's most dynamic stars. He is likely to shine in Tampa at the convention. And, as he continues to campaign and raise money for Romney, he will build his Rolodex for his own possible future presidential run.
He's 49. After Nov. 6, he'll announce whether he's running for reelection next year. And he may have options. A President Romney will need an attorney general.
Just how close Christie was to winning the VP nod was not known. He wasn't available for interviews Saturday. He released a statement, saying in part: "With Paul Ryan on the ticket, this is a team that understands the economic stagnation our country has been facing the last four years and the urgency with which we need to change course."
He and Ryan are friendly, a Christie source said. They talk on the phone and text. They also may face each other in a presidential primary one day.
So this heady phase of Christie's career -- the Jersey guy who made a sudden splash in the presidential pool -- is over.
"Two weeks ago, I was definitely going to be the keynote speaker. Now, this morning, I'm going to be the vice president," he quipped Thursday. "Tomorrow, I may be nothing. Who knows?"