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Chris Christie plays to the conservative crowd at Rosemont conference

ROSEMONT IL - JUNE 08:  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks guests Conservative Political ActiConference (CPAC) Donald E. Stephens

ROSEMONT, IL - JUNE 08: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks to guests at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center on June 8, 2012 in Rosemont, Illinois. CPAC is being hosted by the American Conservative Union. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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Updated: June 8, 2012 6:13PM

New Jersey’s tough-talking Gov. Chris Christie led a posse of potential Republican vice-presidential candidates Friday in attacking President Barack Obama in his hometown.

“When I landed here today in Chicago, I stopped at the airport for a minute ‘cause I saw the president was going to come on the air to talk about the economy,” Christie told those attending the Conservative Political Action Conference, being held in Rosemont.

The way Christie pronounced “economy” sent the audience roaring in laughter. He had already said he thought the president had no clue about fixing the economy.

“I said, ‘What the heck — I got 10 minutes to waste,” Christie said. “He’s talking about why job growth hasn’t been as robust as it should be — I had to stand and stare at the TV — I couldn’t believe he said it: He said, ‘One of the reasons is because state and local government hiring is going in the wrong direction.’ ”

The crowd erupted in groans.

Here is what Obama said: “The big challenge we have in our economy right now is state and local government hiring has been going in the wrong direction. You’ve seen teacher layoffs, police officers, cops, firefighters being laid off.”

Christie said he had cut the number of people working for New Jersey.

“That’s the right direction, Mr. President, not the ‘wrong direction,’ ” Christie said, to cheers. “The president fundamentally believes that the way to support our economy is to take more taxes from all of you and spend it on more public workers who then will pay a fraction of that money back in taxes.”

Christie, whose proclamations that he isn’t interested in running for vice president haven’t quieted calls to give him the post, got three standing ovations from this crowd at the Donald Stephens Convention Center.

“He has the audacity to stand up this morning to say it’s the nation’s governors and the nation’s mayors who are driving our economy down by not hiring enough people for government work?” Christie asked, to more cheers.

The conference has drawn people from around the Midwest, but, playing to Illinois Republicans, Christie smiled and said, “You have my sympathies.”

As a federal prosecutor in New Jersey, Christie said he was often asked if New Jersey was the most corrupt state in the union. He went to bed every night thanking God for Illinois and Louisiana, he said.

“Now that I’ve converted to become governor, people say to me, ‘Is New Jersey the worst-taxed state in America?’ ” Christie said. “Oh, no. Every night, I hit my knees and thank God for Gov. Quinn and Gov. Brown in California.”

Christie’s crowd-pleasing speech may have propelled him to his second-place finish (14 percent) in a straw poll of 500 attendees voting for who they would like to see as Mitt Romney’s running-mate. Top spot (30 percent) went to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and third place went to Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. Neither of them attended the conference.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindahl and other speakers praised Wisconsin voters for re-electing Republican Gov. Scott Walker Tuesday.

Jindahl asked the conservative activists how many of them traveled to Wisconsin to help re-elect walker. Hands went up all over the hall. Without noting the irony, Jindahl complained that Democrats “flooded the state with liberal activists and union activists.”

Less than an hour after polls closed, Walker was projected the winner.

“The experts said it was going to be a long night for folks in Wisconsin — turns out it was long night for folks right here in Chicago at the Obama headquarters,” Jindahl said. “Let’s do everything we can ... to make sure President Obama is a one-term president and comes back to this great city of Chicago.”

Ohio Gov. John Kasich asked the assembled if they were ready for a new president.

“I like him personally,” Kasich said of Obama. “I’ve spent time with him. I’ve played golf with him, been to basketball games with him, but his administration — I don’t think they have a clue how the economy works.”

Those three governors and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell have all been mentioned as potential vice-presidential candidates.

While conservatives have gathered in Rosemont, Illinois’ mainstream Republicans are meeting in Tinley Park for their annual convention, featuring Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus and Downstate congressional candidate Jason Plummer.

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