No Partisan Fire at the Shore: An Obama-Christie Reunion
Obama and Christie: Moderate Friendship: On the Jersey Shore, Gov. Chris Christie’s friendly welcome toward President Obama suggested he cared little about the Republican criticism that haunted a similar visit last fall.
By MICHAEL D. SHEAR and MARK LEIBOVICH POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J. — Politics makes strange beachfellows. President Obama and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey affirmed this notion, and enjoyed its benefits, on Tuesday, in a drizzly reunion on the Jersey Shore, seven months after Hurricane Sandy punished the famous coastline and united them in an unlikely political partnership.
Re-elected yet freshly embattled, the president was making his first visit here since the storm scrambled the final days of the 2012 presidential campaign. As he did in October, the now-surgically thinner governor received Mr. Obama with unrestrained gratitude, showing no hint of the partisan pit-bull tendencies that would define the captured-on-YouTube persona of his first term.
At one point, the pair took an unannounced stroll down the Point Pleasant Boardwalk before stopping at an arcade so Mr. Obama could try to win a teddy bear by throwing a football through a tire, in a game called “Touchdown Fever.” After a few misses, Mr. Obama seemed headed for another public athletic calamity, adding to a litany that includes a string of botched basketball free throws on the White House court last month, a horrifically ugly first pitch at a Washington Nationals game in 2010 and a display of bowling incompetence in Pennsylvania during the 2008 Democratic primaries.
But before the football tosses on Tuesday spiraled too far out of control for the president, Governor Teddy Bear himself stepped in and promptly split the rubber on his first try, earning a high-five from the First Beach Buddy.
“One and done,” Mr. Christie boasted, while the guy behind the counter presented Mr. Obama with a fuzzy “Chicago” bear, which he hoisted for the cameras.
It was good times, good optics and a keepsake for both men’s political photo albums: for Mr. Obama, a snapshot from a rare bipartisan partnership that has actually worked, and for Mr. Christie, proof that he stands apart from the kind of ideological rigidity that could alienate large swaths of the Democratic-leaning electorate of New Jersey, where he is seeking a second term.
In some ways, the Obama-Christie marriage has been one of both convenience and necessity since the pair was joined last year after the ravages of Hurricane Sandy. It has also represented an aspirational model of the bipartisan cooperation Mr. Obama has said he has longed for since he took office, yet has eluded him with Republicans on Capitol Hill. Likewise, the House speaker, John A. Boehner, and the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, have not been as effusive in their praise of the president as the New Jersey governor was in calling Mr. Obama’s response to the hurricane “wonderful,” “excellent” and “outstanding.”
For his part, Mr. Christie has fashioned a potent political brand as a no-nonsense leader, whose clarity in a crisis can transcend the tired niceties and rivalries of the partisan game. The president has served as a ready foil, and, more to the point, a provider of the kinds of tangible goods (money, resources and a friend in the bully pulpit) that can be political gold after a disaster, particularly in the blue-leaning state where he is up for re-election.
On a basic level, the visit provided a hopeful, even enjoyable venue for both men to show off their boardwalk bona fides. Despite a persistent rain, the scene contrasted with the grim spectacle Mr. Obama and Mr. Christie surveyed last October as they toured the hurricane’s wreckage.
They worked a rope line along the Boardwalk, which had been partially damaged by the storm. They talked to a local sand sculptor who is trying to build the world’s largest sand castle, an effort to draw attention, and tourists, back to the shore. Later, at an event on the Asbury Park Boardwalk, Mr. Obama and Mr. Christie urged Americans to visit the restored beaches even as they acknowledged that, for many homeowners, the devastation lingers.
“We all understand there is still an awful lot of work to be done,” Mr. Obama said.
The event seemed every bit the walk on the beach that it actually was for both men: Grin, grip, hug, mention Bruce Springsteen and move on. “I played a little Frog Bog,” Mr. Obama said at the Asbury Park Convention Hall. “And Governor Christie’s kids taught me the right technique for hitting the hammer to get those frogs in the buckets the way I was supposed to.” He also said, of course, that he met with people who are trying to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press
Mr. Obama played the “Touch Down Fever” game on the boardwalk.
Politically speaking, Mr. Christie needed to walk a careful line. If he seeks the Republican nomination for president in 2016 and appears to be too friendly with the president, his Republican rivals could use it against him. But that chumminess could come in handy when it comes to winning over swing voters, if he becomes the party’s nominee.
Mr. Christie’s likely Democratic opponent, Barbara Buono, a New Jersey state senator, issued a statement on Tuesday criticizing the Republican governor for saying last week that he doubted that Hurricane Sandy was the result of climate change.
“The governor’s outrageous response defies overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is causing more extreme weather,” said David Turner, a spokesman for Ms. Buono. “New Jersey needs a governor who will take action to combat climate change, not more of Christie’s radical right-wing views.”
Mr. Christie has also been criticized in his state for appearing with his family in a television commercial that was paid for with storm recovery money. The commercial is intended to promote the shore, but Democrats have argued that it is little more than a thinly-veiled campaign ad for the governor, who is up for re-election in November.
For the moment, the trick for both men was to appear as if they do not care about the politics.
Mr. Christie has spent the last week speaking about the recovery along the coast. He appeared on the “Today” show last week to officially reopen part of the Boardwalk by cutting a five-mile-long blue ribbon with oversize scissors, on live television. “Anybody who lives in New Jersey, the Jersey Shore is in your heart,” the governor said on the program. “And so to see this back open means everything to our state.”