New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says politics never crossed his mind when President Barack Obama reached out to him after Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.
"Part of what I don't think people understand is, political people think I was sitting there thinking about, 'How do I move the pieces on the chess board?'" Christie said during an interview with The Bergen Record
to mark the first anniversary of Sandy. "I was looking at that saying to myself, 'My God, what am I going to do?'"
One of the most enduring images of the GOP governor in the days after the disaster is of him embracing the president. It outraged many conservatives just days before the 2012 presidential election. They said "the hug" cost Mitt Romney the election.
Christie said Obama reached out to him in a phone call on Oct. 30, early on the day after the storm slammed into the state, and asked whether he could visit.
"If you understand the emotional condition we were all in, all of us in this administration sitting around that table watching that, you'd understand that very soon thereafter, probably two or three hours after that, he called for the first time," Christie explained.
"I'm like, man, 'Can I come?' Tell me where and when and I'll be there. I need your help," he said, adding, "From minute one, my state was destroyed, so I was going to have a real relationship with him if he was willing to have one."
The two continued to trade phone calls that day, including one to Christie from a blocked number that he almost let go to voice mail.
"I was like, 'I'm not going to answer this; maybe I should.' And I answered it and said 'Chris Christie,' and he said, 'Hey Chris, it's the president.' I'm like, man, I'm glad I took that. Glad the president didn't go to voice mail," Christie said, adding, "It was that kind of interaction. It was regular. It was substantive."
The calls were followed by a tour of the destruction the next day.
"We were up in a helicopter together, and he saw the fires burning in Bay Head and Mantoloking and then on LBI, and he just said to me, 'I've never seen anything like this,'" Christie recalled.
"So, I think he was also struck emotionally by what he saw and he was concerned, and he would call just to kind of check in on how I was doing in addition to the substantive stuff we would talk about."
The governor said Obama also told him to call whenever he needed something.
"He and I spoke every day for at least the next 10 days — sometimes more than once a day," he said.
"[There were] at least four or five times I called him and said, 'I hate to bother you with this, sir, but you told me if I needed help to call you, and FEMA is driving me crazy or the Army is driving me crazy and I don't understand this.' And each and every time that I did that, within an hour, the problem was fixed."
Christie said he would have called out Obama just as he did House Speaker John Boehner had the president not delivered.
Referring to a news conference he called two months after the storm, in which he attacked Republican Boehner for breaking a promise that a vote on an aid package would happen before a congressional recess, Christie said, "I would have given the president the exact same treatment if the president had ever broken his word to me on things he told me were going to happen with relation to Sandy."
"He never has, so that's why he hasn't gotten that treatment. Because believe me, if he had, I would have been happy to give it to him, too, because that's my job, right? That's my job."
It is likely to continue to be his job, say polls that show Christie has a strong advantage over his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Barbara Buono, in the Nov. 5 gubernatorial election.
The latest Rutgers-Eagleton poll
, released last week, found that Christie continues to draw high marks from New Jersey voters, while Buono is still struggling to get name recognition.
Sixty-one percent of registered voters view Christie favorably, while 28 percent see him unfavorably, the poll showed. Meanwhile, 43 percent of voters have no real impression of Buono. Of those who do, 29 percent have a positive opinion and 28 percent have a negative view.
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