Gov gets some love on the way to Tampa

sea isle city
Gov. Christie poses for a picture over a beer in Sea Isle City with the mayor, Len Desiderio. (by Matt Katz, Inquirer staff)

SEA ISLE CITY, N.J. — In his last public appearance in New Jersey before the biggest speech of his political life, Gov. Christie took a walk down the Jersey Shore today and basked in some serious homegrown adoration.

“Go get ‘em next week!” yelled Bob Bannon, 38, well aware that Christie will be delivering the keynote speech at the Republican convention in Tampa next Tuesday.

Such sentiment was echoed again and again by universally adoring crowds who shadowed Christie during a walk down the Sea Isle City promenade, a short speech about tourism and a visit at a bar with a group of reporters (including me...I needed a was hot.)

The trip became something of a farewell party for the gov before he leaves for Tampa. At one point at the Braca Cafe bar (where Christie downed two Miller Lights), a woman hung on him for a photo even though he wasn’t looking at the camera. He was too busy passionately registering his complaints to us about recent articles in this paper and others.

But Christie was otherwise in great spirits. When a beat-and-bacon salad arrived in front of him, he shot a look at the Sea Isle City mayor.

“I’m trying to take care of ya!” said Mayor Len Desiderio. “You’re going to go to Tampa I don’t know what you’re gonna eat!”

On the boardwalk, a server from Mike’s Seafood came by to deliver a tray of crab balls with cocktail sauce (“Those are really good,” the governor declared), while a kid on a roof yelled: “Hey governor, ‘Republicans rule!’”

Why such popularity? If the comments to Christie are any indication, it’s simple: They like the way he talks.

“My polls go up or down based on what comes out of mouth,” Christie said at the news conference, “and you all know that can be variable from time to time.”

When an older woman, possibly imbibed, asked from her balcony if he remembered her from last night, Christie said: “The answer is always ‘no.’”

Another asked whether he would revisit his famous line before Hurricane Irene last summer (“Get the hell of the beach!”) if a forecasted storm hits Tampa during the Republican convention, while a group of senior citizens implored Christie to come into their bar, the Commodore Club.

“You finally got us off the beach, and now you won’t come in and have a beer with us?” asked Kathy McNichols, 66, as she took pictures with an iPhone in each hand.

When Carmel Petrowsky of Cherry Hill implored Christie to run for president, Christie said he had to finish the job he started. Later, he told reporters that he wouldn’t take a cabinet position in a Romney administration.

“He’s down to earth, he’s one of us, just a great guy,” Petrowsky said.

Ostensibly, Christie’s visit was a chance to tout beach tourism before the Labor Day holiday. But he also gave a sense of what he wants to convey in his keynote.

Christie referenced a recent poll in which most New Jerseyans think the state is going in the right direction. He said that there are fewer late-night jokes about New Jersey (he didn’t mention that David Letterman consistently makes fun of the governor’s weight), and more news stories about the state being a “leader” in confronting problems.

“How about this? A New Jersey Republican’s going to give the keynote speech on Tuesday,” Christie said to cheers.

Christie said he’s on his tenth draft of the speech. He rehearsed all day Thursday at the governor’s mansion. Three people outside of his family are helping him: Maria Comella, his communications director; Bill Palatucci, a key political adviser; Bob Grady, an economic adviser.

These words won’t appear in the speech: “The New Jersey comeback.” That phrase has been touted by Christie but blasted by Democrats because of New Jersey’s high unemployment rate.

“The words ‘New Jersey Comeback’ didn’t fit with the flow” of the speech, he said.

The meaning of the phrase still applies, though, and he said he plans to tell America on Tuesday that the state is on its way to a comeback.

“You’re going to hear a lot, a lot, about how proud I am of where I came from, and the people I’ve grown up with and the effect that they’ve had on me, making me who I am and helping me lead the way I lead,” he said.

“When I get up on that stage Tuesday night there’ll be one thing I’m thinking about when I first step out there — that I’m stepping up there on your shoulders.”