President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie revived their political odd-couple partnership Tuesday for a tour of a rebuilt Jersey Shore that was devastated by Hurricane Sandy seven months ago.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks Tuesday from Asbury Park, N.J., after touring areas that are rebuilding from Hurricane Sandy.
The two were there to usher in the beginning of the summer tourist season and showed that the comfortable public relationship they displayed in the immediate aftermath of the storm last fall remained as the leaders spoke with beachgoers, played boardwalk games and high-fived one another after Christie aced one contest.
In his public remarks, Obama pronounced the Jersey Shore "back," just months after the superstorm washed away much of its boardwalk. "You are stronger than the storm," Obama told cheering residents and visitors. "The Jersey Shore is back and it’s open for business."
But Tuesday's joint-appearance served political purposes for Christie and Obama alike.
AP, AFP-Getty Images, file
TOP: President Barack Obama is greeted by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie upon his arrival at Atlantic City International Airport on Oct. 31, 2012.
BOTTOM: Obama shakes hands with Christie after arriving at Joint Base McGuire-Dix in New Jersey on May 28, 2013.
Christie is facing re-election this fall in Democratic-leaning New Jersey, a state Obama carried by 17 points last fall. Appearing with a relatively popular Democratic president helps Christie burnish his bipartisan credentials and crossover appeal, which first helped him win election in 2009.
At the same time, though, Christie’s apparently close working relationship with Obama could come back to bite him in 2016, should he decide to seek the Republican presidential nomination. The governor’s recent announcement that he’d sought to manage his girth with weight-loss surgery only accelerated speculation about his future White House ambition.
For Obama, the trip to New Jersey is a welcome break from some of the controversies that have consumed his administration in welcome weeks. An appearance with a Republican who’s not piling on the White House for the IRS, Benghazi or targeting reporters will offer the president a chance to change the story and escape partisan needling for once.
Christie’s first appearance with Obama in the immediate aftermath of Sandy coincided with the closing days of the 2012 presidential
election. And although Christie had spoken out in favor of the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, the governor’s effusive praise for the federal response to Sandy spearheaded by Obama rubbed many conservatives the wrong way.
("I don’t think that’s why the president won the election," Romney said of Christie's embrace of Obama months later in an interview with Fox. "I’m not going to worry about how Chris was doing what he thought was best for the people of his state.")
Obama and Christie did spend some quality time together on Tuesday. The two political leaders from opposite parties played several boardwalk games, including "Touchdown Fever." When Christie fired a football through a tire on the first attempt, Obama met him for an excited high-five. Christie later gave the teddy bear -- a "Chicago Bear," for the president's hometown football team -- to Obama.
On Tuesday, both Obama and Christie lauded the recovery work achieved so far, but stressed that much work was still ahead. And Christie reiterated his pledge to work closely with all officials as the recovery goes forward.
Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images
President Obama holds a stuffed bear given to him by Gov. Christie after playing an arcade game along the boardwalk in Point Pleasant, N.J.
"I am not going to let anything or anyone get in between me and the mission of completing the work to restore our great state," Christie said.
Obama said his trip to the shore wasn't just intended for those on the East Coast, but for Oklahomans affected by last week's devastating tornadoes, as well.
"When we make a commitment that we’ve got your back, we mean it," Obama said of his message to those in Oklahoma. "And we’re not going to finish until the work is done."
This story was originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 11:55 AM EDT