TAMPA – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie can tell a good story. He proved it during a breakfast forum with New Hampshire and Pennsylvania delegates at a hotel near the airport on Wednesday morning, spending 20 minutes describing the meeting he had last October with Mitt Romney before deciding to endorse him in the Republican presidential primary.
Christie, the gregarious but tough-talking governor who delivered the Republican National Convention keynote address on Tuesday, said Romney called him up and asked if he and his wife, Ann, could come meet with Christie to talk about the endorsement.
"Oh my god, we have to clean the house – the Romney's are coming," Christie said of his initial reaction. Next, was worrying about his four children behaving themselves during the high-profile visit.
"Remember your manners – the governor and Mrs. Romney are really nice people, but he could be the next president of the United States, so you want to make a good impression," Christie said he told them.
Sure enough, his 11-year-old son came screaming up on a pair of roller blades stopping just short of the Romney's when they arrived. But Christie said Romney took it all in stride.
"All of a sudden there's this conversation going on between my son and Mitt Romney about hockey," he said. Soon after, his youngest daughter starting performing cartwheels to attract the Romneys's attention.
"He walked away with her and for five minutes, I watched him help with her cartwheel, engaged with her," Christie said.
It was around then that Christie was sure of his answer to the question Romney was there to ask.
"Mitt Romney was completely comfortable with my children and he made them feel completely comfortable. In fact, he made them feel like they were the center of the universe," he said. "I thought to myself, this is a real guy, a real father. Because you can't fake that."
Christie's re-telling left the audience laughing, but his overall point sunk in.
"Does that guy have the type of heart that I trust sitting behind that (presidential) desk?" Christie said he asked himself. "Because you can't know what problems are going to come across that desk beforehand and you have to know, does this guy have a heart, a sense of compassion to deal with the nation's problems?"
One Pennsylvania delegate turned to another and said, "This is the speech he should have given last night!"
But Christie said the reshuffling of the speaker schedule due to Tropical Storm Isaac and the campaign's desire to feature Ann Romney during primetime "freed" him up to focus on the stakes of the election, not Mitt the man.
"It allowed me to let Ann Romney talk about Mitt Romney the person," he said. "I really thought my job last night was to lay out what's at stake for this election. What do we stand for, what are our principles, what do we believe?"
Last October, when Christie told Romney he would support him, Romney turned to Ann and said, 'Wow, Christmas in October!"
Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter.