“With just one impressive speech, Chris Christie put three full days of CPAC speakers to shame.

“That’s the bottom line from a bipartisan panel of experts, who watched the New Jersey governor’s address on Wednesday at the American Enterprise Institute for POLITICO – and drew a sharp contrast between Christie and the cattle call of potential GOP hopefuls at the just-concluded conservative gathering…

“‘He hit precisely the right notes people are looking for,’ Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons said of the Republican, citing the governor’s focus on getting the states and nation’s fiscal house in order…

“‘He looked presidential in the kind of Hollywood sense,’ Simmons said. ‘The Bulworth, straight-talking politician. John Goodman on The West Wing. Republican guy from the heartland. He looked that part but it’s a long way to go from there to the White House.'”

***
“The way to understand Christie, says Ben Dworkin, director of the Institute for New Jersey politics at Rider University, ‘is he has the leadership skills of a powerful prosecutor who happens to be governor. He argues his case in the press, and he stays on the attack constantly.’ As a federal prosecutor in New Jersey, Christie never lost a corruption case, and there were plenty in a state best known for The Sopranos. His favorite phrase: ‘Heads I win, tails you lose.’ Yet he’s declined to join other Republican governors and attorneys general in challenging Obama’s health care reform. He says he doesn’t have the money to fool around with that stuff right now, and if the law is found unconstitutional, New Jersey will benefit without having to kick in legal fees.

“His refusal to join in suggests a degree of pragmatism that is attractive to non-true believers. This is a guy who has focused his message of change, and is clear about what he stands for. This is distinct from Obama’s message of change, which meant different things to different people in 2008 and left almost everybody disappointed…

“Christie’s tough-guy approach is working, making him a national figure after just 13 months in office. ‘He commands the bully pulpit more effectively than any other governor we have seen in modern history,’ says Dworkin, who predicts Christie will deliver the keynote address at the GOP convention in 2012.”

***
DYLAN RATIGAN, HOST: Go ahead, Jonathan. Set all of that aside, just your evaluation of [New Jersey Governor Chris] Christie, period, as a politician and his rhetoric.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, WASHINGTON POST: I think Chris Christie is terrific. Here’s a guy whose tough talk is matched up by tough action. All those things he’s talking about, he talked about at AEI today, those are all things he’s done with the exception of dealing with entitlements and things like that which he doesn’t really have to deal with because he’s a governor. But because he’s a governor in a state with deep financial problems and is forced every day, day in and day out, to make decisions, you know, he’s, he’s making them and he’s not sugar-coating them. He’s not trying to be anybody’s friend. He, you know, President Obama talks about adult conversations. Speaker Boehner talks about adult conversations surrounding the big, tough issues that face the country. Chris Christie is the one who’s actually having the adult conversation and making the tough decisions. And when people get in his face and try to yell back at him, he yells back. He actually yells back, which is why I think is driving his popularity.

***

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

***