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Christie crosses the aisle again at Clinton confab

John Gress / Reuters

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton greets New Jersey Governor Chris Christie during the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in Chicago.

CHICAGO – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ventured into what some would consider enemy territory for a Republican on Friday evening as he bonded with former President Bill Clinton over the finer details of disaster relief in a joint appearance that also served as a tantalizing potential peek at the next presidential election.

Christie’s message Friday was one that has become a trademark for the blunt-speaking governor, at least for now: Politics, for him, take a back seat to results.

Christie was received warmly by the former president at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting. His presence, following a Thursday speech by Hillary Clinton, provided attendees a glimpse at two national figures likely to dominate the political stage for the near future. The former secretary of state was not in the room for Christie’s appearance, however.

Stepping on stage for a conversation to discuss lessons Christie learned in the wake of Superstorm Storm Sandy, which battered New Jersey last fall, the governor was praised by Clinton for his handling of the recovery efforts.

At the Clinton Global Initiative, New Jersey's Chris Christie offers advice to other coastal governors on how to be prepared to take on natural disasters.

Clinton pointedly noted that the iconic image most have of Christie is of the governor touring storm damage, days before last year’s election, in his signature flannel jacket with President Barack Obama at his side. It was a nod to the reaction Christie has faced within his own party. 

“He has done a good job,” Clinton told the crowd during the closing session of the annual meeting. “You got both praise and damnation for ignoring the political differences that you had then and still have with the president and all of us who are in the other party to do something that is really important.”

For his part, Christie was clear about his position that, when natural disasters hit, there can be no “partisan lines.” 

“The one thing I will tell you is that there are no partisan lines on this one when it happens. You are reaching out to everybody you can. I was reaching out to every governor I could, Republican or Democrat, to say ‘can you urge your utility companies to send us crews, can you send some National Guard troops up to help supplement ours,’” Christie said at the “America Meeting.”

“And so I think these types of crisis breaks down a lot of those barriers as well between us and can build the kind of consensus you are referring to,” he added.

It is a consensus that might be hard to sell within his own party, however. While Christie went to Chicago to talk to the Clinton foundation, some of his potential 2016 Republican primary opponents – Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and Rep. Paul Ryan among them – were speaking to a gathering of Christian conservatives in Washington.

Although Christie enjoys a good degree of national appeal, Ryan, Rubio, Paul and Bush each outrank Christie in terms of popularity among Republicans, a June NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found, underscoring the challenges Christie must navigate should he choose to seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

In what some are saying could be a preview of 2016, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton are showcasing their leadership skills at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in Chicago.

A Republican governor of a heavily blue state, Christie will stand for re-election this fall. His appearance with Clinton on Friday marks the second time in less than a month that Christie has appeared with one of the nation's most high-profile Democrats.

In late May, Christie was joined by Obama on the Jersey Shore to celebrate the rebuilt portions of the state's historic boardwalk that were washed away by Sandy.

Christie's willingness to partner with Democrats at points helps explain the crossover appeal that has helped transform the pugnacious Republican into a national figure.

That same NBC/WSJ poll found that Christie has broad crossover appeal of the sort that few politicians enjoy. The poll found that 40 percent of Republicans, 41 percent of independents and 43 percent of Democrats see him in a positive light.

Clinton, in an interview on Friday on MSNBC, praised Christie's work to reach out to Democrats as indicative of his appeal.

“I think in the culture of the Northeast, if you are a Republican and want to get elected and re-elected, bipartisanship is imperative,” he told MSNBC's Alex Wagner before noting that Republicans in other parts of the country would be “creamed" by voters if they followed Christie’s example.

NBC's Vaughn Ververs contributed to this report.

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