Obama and Christie Make Unlikely Traveling Companions
No one's calling it a "campaign" event. But the presidential campaign took an unexpected tack Wednesday as President Barack Obama flew in a helicopter — with Republican nemesis Chris Christie — to inspect storm damage in battered New Jersey.
After the aerial tour, the two traveled to a community center in Brigantine, northeast of Atlantic City, where about 50 people had taken shelter and other residents were visiting for food, a hot shower or to power up their cellphones.
After both men doled out hugs and handshakes, Christie said it's "really important to have the president of the United States" in New Jersey.
Obama was equally effusive about Christie, telling residents that "your governor is working overtime" to repair the damage from the storm.
"The entire country has been watching what's been happening. Everybody knows how hard Jersey has been hit," Obama said.
And he promised that the federal government was "here for the long haul."
Later, they praised each other at a news conference. "Governor Christie has been responsive, aggressive, and made sure the state got out in front of this storm," Obama said.
At the same time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted New Jersey a temporary waiver on Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel requirements to help counter a shortfall in fuel supplies in parts of the state for sales through Nov. 13.
Had Obama been traveling with any old Republican governor, few would have taken notice.
But Christie is not any old governor. He's young, at 50, and a possible Republican presidential contender as soon as 2016, should Mitt Romney happen to lose.
And he's not just any critic of Obama. As keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention in August, he was the party's critic-in-chief.
Christie has continued to play that role as one of the highest-profile surrogates for the Republican presidential nominee, Romney.
Indeed, it would be hard to find a more unlikely duo six days before a presidential election — and Christie knows it.
"If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics then you don't know me," the New Jersey governor said Tuesday.
He was responding not to the announcement of the joint tour, which had yet to become public, but to questions about all the praise he has been heaping on Obama during and after Sandy hit New Jersey.
The unlikely partnership began just hours after the worst of the storm knocked out power for 2.4 million people in New Jersey, south and west of New York City. Christie was quick to applaud Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in interviews on major television networks on Tuesday morning.
"The federal government response has been great. I was on the phone at midnight again last night with the president personally," he told NBC's "Today" program.
"The president has been outstanding in this. The folks at FEMA ... have been excellent," said Christie, once thought to be a contender for the White House this time around or possibly Romney's vice presidential pick.
"I don't give a damn about Election Day. It doesn't matter a lick to me at the moment," Christie later told reporters in a press conference about the storm damage. "I've got bigger fish to fry."
Sandy made landfall in New Jersey on Monday night, leaving behind a trail of flooded homes, toppled trees and downed power lines in the nation's most densely populated region. At least 30 people were reported killed along the eastern seaboard.
Obama's handling of the storm's aftermath and Romney's response to it have the potential to become political issues, and both campaigns are taking care to avoid missteps.
Obama again canceled his formal campaign activities for Wednesday to deal with storm recovery efforts. Romney on Tuesday transformed what was intended originally to be a campaign stop into a storm relief event in Ohio.
Liberal group Americans United for Change was quick to circulate Christie's comments.
Earlier on "CBS This Morning," Christie said he spoke with Obama three times on Monday as the storm hit. Obama declared New Jersey a major disaster area so the state can quickly receive federal aid.
"I can't thank the president enough for that," Christie told CBS.
And what about Romney?
Asked on Fox News on Tuesday whether he would tour stricken parts of his state with the Republican nominee, Christie said:
"I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested. I've got a job to do here in New Jersey that's much bigger than presidential politics, and I could care less about any of that stuff," he said.