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Hurricane Sandy Unites Christie, Obama

Wednesday, 31 Oct 2012 02:00 PM

Putting aside partisan differences, President Barack Obama and Republican Governor Chris Christie toured storm-stricken parts of New Jersey together on Wednesday, taking in scenes of flooded roads and burning homes in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy.

Obama and Christie, riding in the Marine One presidential helicopter, got an aerial view of some of the hardest-hit areas of the New Jersey shoreline, and afterward the president promised to cut through red tape to help storm victims.

Despite being a top surrogate for Obama's rival Mitt Romney in the Nov. 6 election, Christie kept up his praise for Obama for federal support during and after the devastating storm, which also crippled New York City and other parts of the eastern seaboard.

Obama, who has suspended campaign events since Sunday, has overseen federal relief efforts and taken pains in recent days to show Americans he is focused on handling a major natural disaster instead of pressing his quest for a second term.

But he is set to resume campaigning on Thursday with visits to Nevada and Colorado, followed by stops on Friday in Ohio — considered the most critical election swing state.

From the air in and around the gambling resort of Atlantic City, Obama saw whole streets underwater, beachfront homes swamped by flooding and piers partially blown away.

He also saw the still-burning remnants of about eight homes set afire during the storm, the biggest to hit the U.S. mainland in generations.

"If your homes aren't too badly damaged we can hopefully get you back in," Obama told residents at an evacuation shelter in the town of Brigantine. "The entire country's been watching. Everyone knows how hard Jersey has been hit."

"We're not going to tolerate any red tape. We're not going to tolerate any bureaucracy," Obama said.

Christie, known for his blunt, in-your-face political style, had only good words for the Democratic president. "I want to thank the president for being here today," he said.

The storm and the government's relief efforts have prompted a U-turn in the tone of Christie's rhetoric about Obama. The New Jersey governor leveled harsh criticism at Obama during a keynote speech at the Republican convention in August.

But all that has changed with the damage wrought by Sandy, which bashed the mid-Atlantic Coast on Monday and Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Christie said Obama's response to the storm damage in New Jersey was "outstanding."

With an extremely close election looming on Tuesday, Obama has remained in the public spotlight, while Romney has had to suspend campaign appearances to avoid coming across as overly political while millions of people were affected by the storm.

Romney was back campaigning on Wednesday, but his campaign seemed at a loss about how to deal with Christie's praise of Obama.

Romney senior adviser Kevin Madden, asked by reporters whether he agreed with Christie that Obama was doing a good job handling the hurricane response, said: "I believe the response is still going on so I'm not in a position to qualify the response by the federal government. I believe it's still ongoing."

While neither side was calling Obama's visit to the Garden State a campaign event, it certainly had the feel of it. The visit will surely dominate the presidential campaign Wednesday. It is, after all Chris Christie, Republican darling and Barack Obama, sitting Democratic president.

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," Christie 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.

The president 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.

© 2017 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

 
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President Barack Obama and Republican Governor Chris Christie put aside partisan differences on Wednesday to visit storm-swamped parts of New Jersey together and oversee relief efforts after the devastation of the storm Sandy.
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2012-00-31
Wednesday, 31 Oct 2012 02:00 PM
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