Using humor and family anecdotes, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday portrayed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as a caring man who hides a big heart behind his composed demeanor.
Christie headlined a group of well-known Republicans who sought to fire up Florida convention delegates at breakfast, attacking President Barack Obama's economic, foreign and energy policies.
Among the speakers were former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, U.S. Rep. Allen West, Florida U.S. Senate candidate Connie Mack and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.
While Christie did his share of Obama bashing, he focused on trying to humanize Romney – a task Republican strategists say is vital to Romney's efforts to defeat Obama. Polls show the president is generally liked by a majority of Americans, while Romney remains misunderstood at best, disliked at worst.
Christie recalled when Romney first visited his New Jersey home nearly a year ago to ask for the governor's support. Christie has four children, and the two oldest ignored their father's instructions to make themselves scarce, instead trying to grab Romney's attention.
Patrick, 12, roller-bladed full speed toward the presidential candidate, stopping inches away. Not to be outdone, daughter Bridgett, 9, performed somersaults and cartwheels ending in a "perfect 9.0 landing" in front of Romney, pronouncing, "I do gymnastics."
Instead of being a normal politician who pats kids' heads and then hopes they'll go away, Romney talked to Patrick about ice hockey in an interested way and accompanied Bridgett to the backyard and assisted in her handstands.
"I was watching and I said to myself, 'You can't fake that. … This is really an involved father and a doting grandfather; this is a man with a good heart," Christie said.
Bill Bunting, a delegate from Pasco County, said afterward that Christie should have used the same approach in his keynote address to the convention Tuesday night.
"He's telling us how Mitt Romney is a real person who cares," Bunting said.
"If you can listen to children, then that means you can listen to the people of the United States of America. If you're looking in their eyes, if you're listening to what they have to say, you know you can make a difference in the White House."
Other speakers at the breakfast tried to make the case that Obama is weakening the country through big government, nanny-state policies at home and weak-kneed appeasement policies abroad.
Bolton, who served as U.N. ambassador under President George W. Bush, hammered on the popular Republican theme of "American exceptionalism," and Obama's supposed lack of fealty to that concept. Bolton said the world is a more stable place when the United States projects its power overseas.
Obama, on the other hand, thinks it is American power that makes the world unstable, Bolton charged. He accused the president of abandoning the United States' strongest ally in the Middle East, Israel, while coddling anti-American governments such as Venezuela and Iran.
Gingrich, who ran unsuccessfully against Romney for the Republican nomination, congratulated his former opponent for picking Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate.
Though Ryan has proposed transforming Medicare benefits into vouchers, Gingrich said Republicans can still win the argument over reforming the health care program for the elderly. He blasted Obama and Democrats generally for scaring seniors about losing Medicare benefits. Under Ryan's proposal, radical changes to the program won't affect anybody who is now 55 or older.
Mack, who is running against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, called his opponent a lackey for Obama who voted for the president's Affordable Care Act. Like other Republicans, Mack accused the president of foiling the nation's efforts to be energy independent by delaying the Keystone Pipeline from Canada.
West kicked off the breakfast with a prayer asking that God protect the nation's "Judeo- Christian" heritage. West promised to restore Florida's leadership in space travel and research.
"When you think about Florida, you think about strong national defense," West said. "When you read the Constitution, one of the pre-eminent duties of the federal government is to provide for the national defense."