President Barack Obama casually tossed a football as Gov.ernor Chris Christie won a stuffed bear in an arcade today along a New Jersey boardwalk, signaling the famed Jersey Shore is back seven months after Hurricane Sandy bore down with force.
Obama, with a left-handed soft toss, went 0 for 5. Christie scored a hit on the first try, prompting a high-five from the president.
"That's because he's running for office," Obama joked, a nod to the Republican governor's re-election campaign and the perception that Obama's visit helps Christie in Democratic-leaning New Jersey.
The odd couple of politics, Christie and Obama found common cause in Point Pleasant Beach, where about half the boardwalk was destroyed in the storm. Christie held back as Obama, dodging rain in a blue rain jacket, worked a rope line, shaking hands with a crowd that gathered for his arrival.
The trip gives Obama a chance to showcase the widely praised Federal Emergency Management Agency at a time when attention has focused on the Internal Revenue Service and its targeting of conservative groups. The president also gets to draw attention to the kind of bipartisanship that has been harder to find in the nation's capital.
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters traveling to New Jersey with Obama that the president believes Christie "has done an excellent job in the efforts he's undertaken."
For Christie, the president's appearance is yet another way to showcase his beloved Jersey Shore. The Republican governor has been touting it throughout the Memorial Day weekend as a destination point that is back in business, and he broke a Guinness world record Friday by cutting a 5.5-mile-long ceremonial ribbon that symbolically tied together some of the towns hardest-hit by Sandy. The state has a US$25 million marketing campaign to highlight the shore's resurgence in time for the summer season.
Both men will reprise the remarkable bipartisan tableau they offered during Sandy's immediate aftermath, when Obama flew to New Jersey just days before the November election to witness the storm's wreckage. Politically, the visit plays well for both men. Christie, seeking re-election this year, will stand shoulder to shoulder with a president popular among Democrats in a Democratic-leaning state. And Obama, dueling with congressional Republicans on a number of fronts, gets to display common cause with a popular GOP stalwart. (Obama was not scheduled to meet with state Sen. Barbara Buono, Christie's likely Democratic opponent in the governor's race.)
Christie, in an interview with NBC on Friday, played down the politics, even when asked whether ties to Obama could hurt him among conservatives if he were to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
"The fact of the matter is, he's the president of the United States, and he wants to come here and see the people of New Jersey," Christie said. "I'm the governor. I'll be here to welcome him."
To be sure, New Jersey is still rebuilding. Obama is visiting those regions that have been among the first to recover - Christie ranks the recovery of the state's famous boardwalks as an eight on a scale of 10 but concedes that in other parts of the state many homeowners are still rebuilding six months after the devastating superstorm struck. Overall, the storm caused US$38 billion in damages in the state, and harmed or wrecked 360,000 homes or apartment units.
But the coastal recovery is a big potential boon for the state, where tourism is a nearly US$40 billion industry.
For Obama, coming off a week that had the IRS in the crosshairs of a scandal, the trip also offers an opportunity to demonstrate the work of FEMA, whose response to disasters has been met with bipartisan praise.
Indeed, inside the White House, FEMA is perceived as an example of what's best about government. The agency, panned for its response under President George W. Bush to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, has made a turnaround under administrator Craig Fugate and has been commended for its work in disasters from the Joplin, Missouri, tornado in 2011 to Sandy last year.
The visit also occurs as Congress is away for a Memorial Day break, a weeklong recess that likely will silence the daily attention lawmakers, particularly Republicans, had been paying to the IRS political upheaval as well as the ongoing debate about the fatal attacks at the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last year and an investigation of media leaks that has stirred opposition from the media and many lawmakers.