Obama & Christie Spark Bromance During Storm Damage Tour
(CNN) — “Down the shore, everything’s all right,” President Barack Obama declared Tuesday on his return to New Jersey’s devastated coast seven months after Superstorm Sandy caused billions of dollars in damage there.
The line from the Tom Waits song “Jersey Girl,” popularized by local hero Bruce Springsteen, was the main theme of the joint visit by Obama and Gov. Chris Christie to survey recovery efforts and encourage people to hit the beaches this summer.
Christie, a Republican, was criticized last year for appearing with Obama after the devastating storm at the height of the 2012 election campaign and praising the Democratic president’s response.
Obama subsequently won re-election while Christie saw his poll numbers soar.
Tuesday’s return visit by the pair raised anew the perception that both sought to again gain political benefit from jointly touring the disaster-stricken region.
In introducing the president for remarks in drizzly Asbury Park, Christie rejected any political machinations behind efforts to generate federal help for his state.
“New Jersey is more important, our citizens’ lives are more important than any type of politics at all,” said the governor, who is up for re-election this year and is considered a potential GOP presidential contender in 2016.
Obama pledged that his administration will continue to support New Jersey’s recovery, reminding the crowd of his promise seven months ago that “your country would have your back.”
“I meant it,” he said to applause.
Both Obama and Christie emphasized that Asbury Park, made famous by Springsteen’s roots there, and the rest of the Jersey Shore was open for business.
“After all you’ve dealt with, after all you’ve been through, the Jersey Shore is back,” the president said to cheers, adding that residents “want all Americans to know that they are ready to welcome you here.”
To drive home the point, Obama and Christie visited the Point Pleasant boardwalk and even engaged in a “Touchdown Fever” football toss, with Obama missing his throws while Christie’s first effort was a winner, sailing through the tire.
“One and done,” the governor exclaimed, while Obama gave Christie a high-five and quipped: “That’s because he’s running for office.”
Superstorm Sandy forced both Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney to suspend campaign activities for a few days in the final run-up to last November’s election.
Christie, a top Romney surrogate who delivered the keynote address at the Republican National Convention, joined Obama for a tour of the storm damage and made a point of praising the president for his “personal concern and compassion” for the state and its people.
The bipartisan display benefited both men, according to polls, and was considered a boost to Obama’s re-election effort in the final days of the campaign.
In the storm, hundreds of thousands of homes and oceanfront businesses were either damaged or destroyed.
Businesses on the Jersey Shore are still working to recover at the beginning of the busy summer tourist season, which in years past has brought billions of dollars in revenue to the state.
Tuesday’s trip was the second in three days by Obama to the site of a natural disaster following two weeks of controversies involving his administration, including the disclosure of IRS targeting of conservative groups and a secret subpoena for journalists’ phone records.
Obama toured tornado-inflicted damage in Moore, Oklahoma, on Sunday and encouraged further congressional support for programs that bolster emergency management systems for municipalities.
The president praised the Federal Emergency Management Agency for its quick response to the Moore tornado, just as he did last fall when Sandy struck the East Coast.
Since coming under heavy criticism for missteps in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA has been commended by localities for responding quickly to disasters and reducing bureaucratic hurdles.
By Tom Cohen
CNN’s Paul Steinhauser and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.
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