The keynote speech at political conventions is often a springboard to a party's presidential nomination four years down the road. Take Barack Obama's big oratorical debut at the Dems' convention in 2004, when he was a mere state senator for Illinois; within four years, he had jumped to the Senate and thence to the White House. Perhaps inevitably, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's keynote — which focused too much on him and too little on Mitt Romney, according to some GOP critics — ignited a flurry of speculation. With so many other heavy hitters on the GOP stage, did he establish himself as the GOP's most likely candidate in 2016 if Romney loses in November?

Yep, Christie's now the one to beat: The keynote speech is one of politics' golden opportunities, Rutgers University political science professor Ross Baker tells, because it's a chance to introduce yourself to the country and establish yourself as next-in-line for the presidential nomination. Christie's feisty but uncharacteristically restrained speech wasn't great, but "it did the job," which is why now, even before Romney has accepted the 2012 nomination, people are sizing up Christie's chances in 2016.
"Christie's speech rated very good, not great" 

Staying on top won't be easy: Christie is now unquestionably a "national figure" and "point of pride" among his fellow Republicans, Rider University political science professor Ben Dworkin tells The American Spectator. The trouble is, now he has to return to New Jersey "to deal with 9.8 percent unemployment and the possible mid-year budget cuts totaling hundreds of millions of dollars." Convention buzz fades; "the harsh realities of New Jersey's economy" linger.
"Christie big hit, but challenges loom"

Actually, Christie has to get in line behind Paul Ryan: Vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan is the one who "vaulted to the top of the list of GOP future stars" in Tampa, says Jake Sherman and Jonathan Allen at Politico. If Romney loses, Christie — and Sen. Marco Rubio, and Sen. Rob Portman, and all the other possible 2016 candidates — will have to climb over him to get the nod. Of course, Ryan's chances could fade during four years in a "grid-locked and unpopular Congress," so the race could be wide open.
"Paul Ryan has tough 2016 path if Mitt Romney loses"

Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.