TRENTON, N.J. - Chris Christie takes the stage next week at the Republican National Convention for a keynote address that will give the New Jersey governor his largest audience yet. • Last week, Christie was on vacation at the Jersey Shore, where he eschewed speechwriters and was drafting his own version of the address he'll give in Tampa, Fla., before Republicans nominate Mitt Romney. Christie has been running potential lines past friends and advisers, said those familiar with his speech. But what exactly the speech itself will say, Christie is keeping as private as he can for now. • Analysts say Christie has an opportunity to set himself up for a 2016 presidential bid.
But there are keynote speeches people remember, and then there are those they don't. Barack Obama delivered a speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention that stayed with people and led to his successful presidential bid four years later. Others — like U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, who was the featured speaker in 1992 — weren't as lucky.
"It gives you a prime time national stage and that's something that even money can't buy," said Bob McHugh, a former journalist who was later a spokesman for Republican New Jersey Govs. Tom Kean and Christine Whitman.
Not every speech leads to a run for the White House. Bradley was unsuccessful at getting the Democratic Party's support in 2000 despite sharing the stage with two other keynote speakers at the 1992 convention. And even though New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is well known, his keynote at the 2004 Republican National Convention wasn't notable enough to help his presidential bid four years later.
Others don't seek national office. Former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, then her state's treasurer, gave the keynote at the Democratic National Convention in 1988, making headlines for saying then-Vice President George H.W. Bush was "born with a silver foot in his mouth."
Richards' sarcastic speech was popular and she went on to become governor. Richards never made a national run; instead, then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton — who gave such a long-winded nominating speech at the same convention that people said it would ruin his career — went on to win the presidency four years later.
Clinton's speech was opening night, which traditionally sees fewer attendees than the keynote address and final night when the party's nominee addresses the crowd. And gone are the days of television networks broadcasting conventions start to finish. The keynote is a time slot, however, that will air in prime time.
"When you give the keynote speech, you're a supporting player whether you want to be or not," McHugh said. "You end up being the best supporting actor or you end up being someone that's never heard from again."
Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, lists Obama, Clinton and Richards among the more notable speeches. He also points to Hubert Humphrey's 1948 speech that led Democratic Southern state delegates to walk out of the convention hall in protest when he called on them to "come out of the shadows of segregation and walk in the sunlight of civil rights."
"It was a lovely speech," Baker said.
And while it wasn't a keynote, Baker said, perhaps the most ironic oration was Ohio delegate James A. Garfield's 1880 nominating speech in support of John Sherman, who at the time was the Republican presidential candidate.
"Garfield's speech was so elegant and beautiful they nominated him instead of Sherman," Baker said, adding that it is unlikely something like that would happen again. "I cannot imagine that the people in Tampa, after Christie's speech, would turn on Romney and say this is the guy we want."
McHugh, who covered the 1988 GOP convention for The Associated Press, also points to Kean's speech.
"He wasn't known as a great orator, but he had a reputation as a great governor and he also had a deep personal relationship with (George H.W.) Bush so he gave a good speech," McHugh said.
But Baker said a speech like Kean's wouldn't go over well now.
"There's a situation in where a man's personality really did come through - an absolutely generous, spirited, big-hearted man and he gave that kind of speech," Baker said. "But I think the Republican party of today would find it insipid and kind of Pollyanna-ish."
In his speech, Kean criticized the Democrats for changing the colors on the American flag to pink, azure and eggshell because it looked better on television.
"Well I don't know about you, but I believe Americans, Democrat and Republican alike, have no use for pastel patriotism," Kean said.
McHugh said the statement seemed out of character for Kean, who was known for his bipartisanship.
"You have to give a good speech, but you also have to do as you're told," he said. "Tom Kean, I don't think would have used the phrase 'pastel patriotism' himself, although he was a very, very dyed-in-the-wool Republican."
New York Gov. Mario Cuomo's 1984 keynote also made an impression that left people talking about him as a possible Democratic presidential candidate up until 2000, McHugh said.
"The guy was gifted as an orator; not that many politicians are anymore," he said.
While Christie can command a crowd, McHugh said his style is markedly different from Cuomo's.
"Cuomo was sort of classically elegant, almost in the academic tradition of rhetoric," he said. "The words sort of rolled off his tongue."
Both Baker and McHugh describe Christie's blunt style in one word — "Jersey."
"The governor does have a tendency to go over the top," Baker said. "With a prepared statement though, I think he will be restrained. But he's got to have red meat in that speech, too, for the conservatives."
And while Baker said convention speeches are usually heavily vetted, the goal is also for the speaker's personality to shine through. Christie's speech will ultimately go through the Romney campaign for final approval.
"Clearly, the person who draws that assignment is basically getting the leg up on everybody for the party nomination four years hence," Baker said. "There's a very strong tendency not to blow it, to really do a good job."
McHugh said personality is the reason GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave Christie the keynote.
"They picked him because he's Jersey, but he can't be calling Obama an idiot or a nut job," said McHugh, adding after a pause: "Or maybe he will."