TAMPA, Fla. – Chris Christie brought the tough love, the swagger, the fight -- and even the Boss -- to Tampa Tuesday night.
The straight-talking New Jersey governor used his highly anticipated convention keynote to strike a match under the Republican Party faithful and effectively give them their marching orders going into November. Making the case in no uncertain terms for the Romney ticket, Christie charged conservatives with leading a “new era of truth-telling” – calling this the only way to revive a country “paralyzed” by feckless leadership.
“We ended an era of absentee leadership without purpose or principle in New Jersey,” Christie said, relating his own experiences fighting the teachers unions and other interests in the Garden State. “It is time to end this era of absentee leadership in the Oval Office and send real leaders back to the White House.
“America needs Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, and we need them right now,” Christie declared.
With much riding on the speech, Christie delivered a rousing address that repeatedly brought the crowd to its feet. Christie also set the stage for vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, who is scheduled to speak Wednesday.
After it was over, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean told Fox News the governor had just “set the tone” for the campaign. “Chris Christie supplied the thrust and the fuel for the rocket to take off,” Kean said.
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Christie was as tough on Obama as he was supportive of Mitt Romney, ratcheting up the convention tone as the president sets out on a campaign swing of his own this week. Christie claimed “doubt and fear” have seized a country that four years ago put its stock in hope and change. Throughout, the governor called on Republicans to do what he claims Democrats have not, and start telling the “hard truths” about what needs to be done to reduce entitlements, reduce the size of government and ultimately bring down the debt.
Teeing up his address, Christie recalled the advice of his late mother, whom he said taught him to “speak from the heart” and always choose respect over love.
“She told me there would be times in your life when you have to choose between being loved and being respected. She said to always pick being respected. She told me that love without respect was always fleeting.”
He added: “I believe we have become paralyzed, paralyzed by our desire to be loved.” Christie said leaders chronically opt to do what is popular, “but tonight I say enough.”
“Tonight,” he said, “we’re gonna choose respect over love.”
The governor said Romney will “tell us the truth” and “lead with conviction” and that, in the end, the country will thrive “in a second American century.”
“If you’re willing to hear the truth … about the hard road ahead, and the rewards for America that truth will bear, I’m here to begin with you this new era of truth-telling,” Christie said.
The governor flavored his speech with his own New Jersey upbringing, telling about how his dad put himself through Rutgers while his “tough-as-nails” mother raised him.
“She spoke the truth – bluntly, directly and without much varnish. I am her son,” Christie said, before making a passing reference to his lifelong love of Bruce Springsteen. “I was her son as I listened to ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ with my high school friends on the Jersey Shore,” Christie said.
Christie’s speech was closely watched, as Republicans were depending on him to not only energize a convention delayed and overshadowed by Hurricane Isaac, but to make the case – to Republicans, Democrats and independents -- for Mitt Romney.
Romney’s wife, Ann, offered the personal touch, telling stories about the newly anointed GOP nominee that only she would know in an earlier address. But it was Christie’s job to bring the rhetorical firepower and energize a party that for months – years, really – has been divided over Romney’s bid for the presidency.
Christie sought to leave no doubt that now is the time for Republicans to rally around that man.
And the audience responded, interrupting the speech repeatedly with applause. Utah delegate Bianca Lisonbee told FoxNews.com she thought Christie delivered.
"He hit it out of the park. He hit the nail on the head,” she said. “Americans are hungry for people who will tell it like it is. They need someone who will tell them not what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. That is Chris Christie."
Colorado alternate delegate Lloyd Garcia said he thought Christie dished “some hard truths.”
“I’m always excited to hear him speak,” he said. “I wish he were running for president this time around."
For Christie himself, the address was indeed a chance to burnish his national stage presence, perhaps in preparation for a presidential run sometime in the future. The governor was eyed as a possible Romney running mate this year, but Christie insisted all along he wasn’t interested in leaving Trenton right this moment.
FoxNews.com’s Judson Berger and Cristina Corbin and Fox News’ Chad Pergram contributed to this report.