For a speech intended to extoll the Republican party's presidential nominee, it took a while to mention Mitt Romney.

Republican governor Chris Christie strode into the national spotlight on Tuesday night and delivered a forceful address that touched on his personal background, his crusade to balance New Jersey's budget, reform its public pension schemes, and take on its teachers unions.

Oh, and also, "we stand up for Mitt Romney."

It's hardly a secret that an enthusiasm canyon separates Romney, who last night was officially elevated to his party's presidential standard-bearer, from the bellicose Christie. Pundits salivated for months over the prospect that Christie would make a run this year, pleading the New Jersey Republican to take a shot.

Christie declined, saying he had work to finish in New Jersey. He also batted down the notion that he wanted to be Romney's running mate (the New York Post created a furor with a recent report saying Christie declined the vice presidential job because he thought Romney would lose -- Christie has denied the story).

But it seems clear that Christie is positioning himself for 2016. The party conventions afford rising luminaries the chance to sell themselves to the American public, to the point that speakers allegedly there to introduce the presidential nominee end up upstaging him instead.

The most recent and obvious parallel is to 2004, when a young state senator from Illinois electrified a Democratic National Convention crowd that was admittedly lukewarm on the selection of John Kerry. Four years later, Barack Obama's upstart candidacy delivered him the White House.

The Kerry-Romney parallel is a little simplistic. For one thing, Christie seems likely to have an easier time than Obama did marshaling the support of a party establishment that has already unequivocally signaled its support. 

A large part of that is his record. Obama was still a first-term senator with a slender legislative resume when he ran in 2008, whereas Christie can boast of accomplishments that dovetail perfectly with the Republican Party's goal of slashing taxes, scaling back government and taking on powerful union interests.

Christie made sure to offer that narrative on Tuesday, recounting how he overcame the naysayers to push through reforms and noting that the people of New Jersey wanted "politicians who led instead of politicians who pandered."

Coming in an election cycle where Republicans have regularly bemoaned Romney's tendency to play it safe and say what he thinks people want to hear, Christie's assertiveness offered a contrast. And it underscored the unapologetic style that has made him such a popular figure.

Christie closed his speech by telling the audience that "if you are willing to fight with me for Mitt Romney, I will fight with you." 2012 is Romney's battle -- but should the combative Christie wage his own war for the White House, he will no doubt have troops at the ready.