Chris Christie is GOP convention's NY surrogate

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is seen at New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is seen at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Florida, during final preparations for the opening of the Republican National Convention. (Aug. 27, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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TAMPA -- When presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney went looking for a keynote speaker to talk Tuesday night about fiscal austerity, tax cuts and what he calls President Barack Obama's failures, he turned to another Northeast Republican.

Though the Republican Party has largely shifted to the South and West, Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, is counting on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a tough-talking former federal prosecutor from a part of the country more blue than red, to pump up the faithful and persuade independent voters in battleground states.

Tuesday night, Christie will be on the major TV networks' hourlong coverage, sharing the spotlight with Romney's wife, Ann, on what has become the first day of a storm-shortened three-day Republican Convention.

No New York politician will be a major speaker this year, so Christie is the closest thing. Some New York leaders here compare him favorably with former GOP New York City Mayors Fiorello LaGuardia and Rudy Giuliani.

"He's like Giuliani, only with more passion," Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said of Christie, the first Republican governor of New Jersey in a dozen years.

Christie has fans in the New York delegation, including Nassau County GOP chairman Joseph Mondello, who said, "He would have made a great vice presidential candidate."

Mondello earlier noted that, ironically, the new conservative mainstream of the Republican Party often dismisses members from New York, New Jersey and nearby states as too moderate and too pragmatic.

Part of the reason for that attitude is that those states are so Democratic that nearly all their presidential electoral votes in the entire Northeast -- with the exception of New Hampshire this year -- already are being counted in Obama's column.

New York and Northeast Republicans also must cope with different pressures than their fellow party members in more conservative states -- a constituency with more moderate views, labor unions that still have muscle and greater ethnic diversity.

Rick Lazio, of Brightwaters, a New York delegate and a former Long Island congressman, said that in New York, "When you run in the primary, you're accused of being too moderate, but when you run in the general election, you're accused of being too conservative."

Christie, like other Republicans in his region, has switched from being for abortion rights to against them. He also once backed an assault weapon ban.

King said he likes Christie but has cooled toward him after the governor took offense at the NYPD's covert surveillance of Muslims and mosques in New Jersey.

The national GOP has found inspiration in what Christie touts as the "Jersey comeback."

"I'll try to tell some very direct and hard truths to people in the country about the trouble that we're in and the fact that fixing those problems is not going to be easy for any of them," Christie said when he was named the keynoter.

That stark economic message doesn't sync with the usual move to the middle by presidential candidates at party conventions.

New York GOP chairman Edward Cox dismissed a question about that as "traditional political talk," calling the federal deficit a crisis that must be addressed.

"American people are hurting. They know they have to cut their spending," Cox said. "They can't bear the government taxing them more to solve the government deficit."

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