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Obama and Christie's shared praise far from unusual

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and President Obama talk after flying over damaged communities and talking with residents, saying they are determined to rebuild as quickly as possible.

 

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has adamantly insisted that presidential politics are the furthest thing from his thoughts during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, though that hasn’t stopped some from filtering his praise for President Barack Obama through a political prism.

The pugnacious New Jersey governor, who supports Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney over Obama this fall (and delivered the keynote address at Romney’s nominating convention), has heaped effusive praise on Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy, the massive superstorm to wreak havoc in the northeast, and especially the Jersey Shore.

Larry Downing / Reuters

President Barack Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie talk with survivors of Hurricane Sandy in a community center while touring damaged areas in Brigantine, New Jersey, October 31, 2012.

“I want to thank the president for coming here today. It's really important to have the president of the United States acknowledge all the suffering that's going on here in New Jersey and I appreciate it very much,” Christie said this afternoon as he and Obama toured the devastation. “We're going to work together to make sure we get ourselves through this crisis and get everything back to normal.”

Obama was similarly complimentary, telling people at the Brigantine community center that Christie, who is up for re-election next year in deep-blue New Jersey, “is working overtime to make sure that as soon as possible everybody can get back to normal.”

The two appeared together, along with the New Jersey congressional delegation, following their tours to give similar remarks on camera.

Mitt Romney has continued to push full-speed ahead with his campaign in the battleground state of Florida this morning. The president's campaign team is charting the political course ahead while he tours some of the worst damage in New Jersey. Jen Psaki, Obama traveling press secretary, discusses.

The mutual praise is an outgrowth of both leaders’ handling of a natural disaster, but it coincides with a crucial juncture in the presidential campaign, with just days to go until Election Day. Obama is trying to preserve an advantage in swing states as Romney barnstorms the country in an effort to subsume the incumbent president.

Christie rebuffed suggestions on Tuesday that there were political implications to his work with the administration.

"I've got 2.4 million people out of power. I've got devastation on the shore. I've got floods in the northern part of my state,” he said on Fox News. “If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics then you don't know me."

And the Romney campaign gave Christie a pass for his work with Obama on Wednesday, dismissing a question about whether the GOP nominee was annoyed by the New Jersey governor’s praise for the president.

“Gov. Christie's doing his job. He's the governor of the state that's been hit by a very, very horrific storm,” Romney adviser Russ Schriefer said in a conference call with reporters. “He's doing exactly what he's supposed to be doing as governor of New Jersey. And the president is doing what he needs to be doing as president.”

That won’t necessarily stop observers from searching for political implications in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, especially so close to Nov. 6.

“I am hesitant to kind of make political calculations about the impact of an event that resulted in the deaths of 50 people and the loss of $50 billion in property,” senior Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod said on a separate conference call this morning. “This was a disaster of huge proportions, and the president is doing what his responsibilities require -- and that includes going to New Jersey, as is what he's done in the case of every major disaster during the course of his presidency, to offer the support of the people of our country, to tour the scene himself, to speak firsthand with the first responder and the elected officials at the scene.”

Reuters, Getty Images

In the final push in the 2012 presidential election, candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama make their last appeals to voters.

Obama will return to the campaign trail on Thursday after canceling three days’ worth of political events. And Romney on Wednesday was mostly tentative in attacking Obama, opting instead for a softer tone and words of encouragement for recovery efforts in the northeast.

Axelrod suggested that the storm essentially washed out several days of campaigning, during which point there was no movement in the jockeying between Romney and the president.

“Wherever you think this race is, it tended to freeze the race because people are focused on the storm,” he said. “That's what's been in the news; normally the election would have been in the news. So I think it's fair to say that that is the case.”

But as a series of polls suggest Romney is trailing in some battleground states, those days might also be crucial opportunities lost.