When the challenger to incumbent power wanted a keynoter for his national party convention he went to a rising star from New Jersey, a future presidential candidate.
This was 20 years ago, in 1992, and the incumbent that time was a Republican, President George H.W. Bush, trying to stay in office in the face of a challenge from Democrat Bill Clinton of Arkansas.
The keynoter was Senator Bill Bradley from New Jersey, who would go on to run unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for president in 2000.
That was the last time a politician from New Jersey enjoyed the eminence of a national convention platform, albeit split three ways in Bradley’s case.
USA Today broke the news today of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s selection of Gov. Chris Christie to be his keynote speaker at the GOP convention in Tampa two weeks from now. As Republicans murmur about a 2016 Christie presidential run, sources yearning for higher office for their Jersey Guy champion inevitably brood on the damning prospect of a 2012 Romney victory.
Consider what a Clinton victory meant for Bradley.
The Arkansan’s win in 1992 and 1996 re-election delayed Bradley’s presidential shot by eight years, repackaging a grayer, less fit-looking, out of office and out of the establishment epicenter ex-jock for a doomed run against VP Al Gore.
Another eight years after losing to Gore, Bradley, in backing Barack Obama for the presidency in the 2008 Democratic Primary, told PolitickerNJ.com that Obama had some of the spark he as a candidate had lacked.
In 1992, the senator shared the keynote stage with two other Democrats: Barbara Jordan of Texas and Zell Miller of Georgia.
Miller would go on to rail against fellow Democrat John Kerry at the 2004 GOP Convention. Obama gave the 2004 Democratic keynote for imminent loser Kerry, and positioned himself for his own successful run four years later while his political star still had some luster.
“Bill Clinton will be the next president of the United States,” Bradley told his fellow party members after the film intro of him playing professional basketball to a gratified roar. “We meet in New York to begin the candidacy of change. Won’t it be nice to have a president who believes and knows what he wants to do? We meet at a moment when Americans are uncertain and angry – and so am I.”
Bradley complained about government yielding to special interests.
“For too long American leadership has waffled and wiggled and wavered,” said the former New York Knicks star. “Today in America, wages are flat, unemployment is up, the deficit grows, and healthcare and college costs skyrocket.”
** Just four years before Bradley, in 1988, Christie’s political idol, Gov. Tom Kean, gave the Republican Party’s keynote address for George H.W. Bush. A statewide star groomed for national stature, he would not run for president.