Despite the speeches, Clinton had started noticing Christie's tough talk and skill at sparring with reporters, sources said. Soon afterward, Christie again impressed the always-a-politician Clinton as the rookie governor battled New Jersey's powerful teachers unions.
So, later in 2010, when the two wound up a few rows away from each other at the Big East basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden, Clinton had his people arrange for a quick chat with Christie. That led to a summit of sorts at Clinton's post-presidential office in Harlem, where Clinton and Christie talked politics and public policy.
"It was very good, long Clintonesque conversation," one Clinton person said.
What was clear during that meeting and the subsequent opportunities for the two pols to talk is how much alike Clinton and Christie are.
"Christie is like Clinton," the insider said. "You couldn't be in a room with Chris Christie and not come away thinking, 'Christie is a neat guy to be around. He's normal. He grabs a room. Like Clinton.'"
Never a darling of the Republican right-wing, Christie and his aides are well aware that a trip to the Clinton conference is more than just a pleasant diversion to Chicago. It can, in fact, provide potential opponents with more ammunition to demonstrate how disloyal Christie is to the conservative electorate that turns out in presidential primaries.
For a governor who constantly reminds people he can work with leaders of all stripes, the appearance today and the friendship with Clinton are worth the political risks.
"This is a stature thing," a Christie source said. "It burnishes his [Christie's] bipartisan credentials and it shows the governor is a serious guy. He's talking about leadership with Clinton. That's a big deal."
As for Clinton's efforts to destroy Christie last time around: Christie, the source said, "understands the game as well as anybody. The campaign's over."