Admired though he is for his rhetorical abilities, Christie faces a delicate balancing act in Tampa. In terms of style, he and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney could hardly be more different: Where Christie is unusually loose-lipped and prone to searing criticism -- he's been known to mock everyone from journalists to fellow Republicans -- Romney is viewed as cautious and controlled.
"The keynote speech is always a mix of the personal attributes and qualities of the speaker," said one Democratic strategist who has worked with Democrats on convention speeches in the past. "In this case, it's a guy who's clearly got a big future ahead in the Republican Party. But his message is going to be carefully calibrated and controlled by the nominee. Governor Christie, in order to give a home-run speech, really has to make it his own."
(...) "My experience is the candidate and his team has total editorial control. The last thing they would want would be to have somebody truly freelancing," said Demarest. "You don't want somebody speaking in ways that aren't them, because then it's not going to be a good speech. It's got to be genuine, but no two politicians have exactly the same views on every issue. You don't want any of those differences coming out in the convention speech."
According to the Democratic strategist, there's a "bartering process" that inevitably takes place. "You've got two sets of authors. Romney's convention group will be making multiple suggestions and offering advice probably down to specific language. That's the tension. In order to give a good speech, it has to be authentic and in the vocabulary that the speaker is comfortable with -- but at the same time, it has to cover all of Governor Romney's points."
(...) Christie probably doesn't need to be told that he needs to deliver on Tuesday: A strong speech on his part will help gin up excitement for the Romney-Ryan ticket, but it could also be a huge boon for his political future.
"You don't need any more evidence than Barack Obama to indicate how career-changing a speech like this could be," said the Democratic strategist. "Most people probably don't know much about Chris Christie. This is really his first opportunity to really gain a national office and to speak more broadly to the national Republican Party."
In order to achieve that level of success, the Democratic strategist said, he needs to "check every box that the nominee's campaign needs to have checked."
Clark Judge, a former speechwriter for President Reagan and founder and managing director of the White House Writers Group, points out that Christie has a powerful incentive for doing just that.
"The up-and-coming candidate won't make a name for himself unless he does a good job in promoting the candidate," he said. "If you handed this to me today, I could write that speech and so could about 200 other people. There is a broadly shared consensus about what the problems are and what direction to go in. The question here is, can Governor Christie deliver that message? And there is every reason to think that he can."
Barring a disastrous, off-script gaffe, it's unlikely Christie can do much harm on the podium -- even if his speech doesn't get rave reviews.
"It's hard to imagine serious damage," said Demarest. Pointing to Bill Clinton's 1988 convention speech, in which the then-Arkansas governor delivered a 33-minute address that, according to Time magazine "seemed about five times as long," a lackluster speech is more likely to slip under the radar than not.
"People wrote then that that would be the end of Bill Clinton's career," Demarest said. "He obviously proved them quite wrong."
Christie doesn't seem too concerned. At a press conference earlier this week, he emphasized that nerves are not a problem: "I'm not nervous. Nah. I'm excited. It's a great opportunity for me personally, it's a great opportunity for our state."