Obama tours devastated Jersey Shore with Christie, promises help

President Obama toured parts of storm-ravaged New Jersey on Wednesday with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a prominent supporter of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Obama and Christie met in Atlantic City and took an hour-long helicopter flight over the New Jersey Shore, where homes were flattened and flooded this week by Hurricane Sandy. They then visited a community center in Brigantine, a small town just north of Atlantic City.

“The entire country has been watching what’s been happening,” Obama said at the community center with Christie. “Everybody knows how hard Jersey has been hit.

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“You guys are in my thoughts and prayers,” Obama said. “We are going to be here for the long haul. ... Part of the way we set this up is the country comes for help because you never know when somebody is going to get hit by a disaster. ... We’re going to make sure that we get the help to you as quickly as we can.”

The hurricane has taken Obama off the campaign trail less than a week before Election Day, but has also provided an opportunity for him to show off his leadership skills and appear competent and presidential.

He has also enjoyed the chance to bask in the praise of a Republican — Christie, the man who gave the keynote address at this year’s GOP convention and has routinely criticized Obama on cable television and the campaign stump.

On Wednesday, Christie piled on the praise, saying he and the president have had a "great working relationship" over the past couple of days.

“I just want to tell all of you exactly what the president just said. I know he means it,” said Christie, who faces his own reelection test in 2013 in New Jersey, a state Obama is expected to win this year.

“I want to thank the president for coming here today. It’s really important to have the president of the United States acknowledge all the suffering that’s going on here in New Jersey and I appreciate it very much. We’re going to work together to make sure we get ourselves through this crisis and get everything back to normal.

“Thank you for coming, sir,” Christie said to Obama.

Obama also praised Christie, telling the community center “your governor is working overtime to make sure that as soon as possible everybody can get back to normal."

"He has put his heart and soul in making sure New Jersey bounces back," Obama said in a separate set of remarks later in the afternoon.

Romney's campaign said it was not upset by Christie's praising of Obama's handling of the hurricane. 

In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Romney political adviser Russ Schriefer — who has also advised Christie — said the New Jersey lawmaker was simply "doing his job."

"He is the governor of a state that has been hit by a very, very horrific storm," Schriefer said. "There's tremendous damage, people have lost their lives, and he's doing exactly what he's supposed to be doing as governor of New Jersey. And so, the president is doing what he needs to do as president, and this is a case of the governor doing his job."

Devastation from the hurricane has forced both presidential candidates to shift their tones and activities.

Romney returned to active campaigning Wednesday after leading a donation drive for those affected by the hurricane on Tuesday. But he mostly avoided direct attacks on the president, knowing that images of Obama touring New Jersey would play on the nightly news and appear in newspapers.

"We love all of our fellow citizens, we come together in times like this and we want to make sure they have a speedy recovery," Romney said at an event in Tampa, Fla.

Later, he said "people coming together is also what I believe will happen on Nov. 7" — the day after the election, a reflection of his confidence in winning.

In his most direct attack on Obama, Romney said he doesn't "just talk about change — I actually have a plan to execute change and make it happen."

Obama will return to the campaign stump on Thursday in the swing states of Nevada and Colorado.

Obama toured New Jersey with Christie and FEMA administrator Craig Fugate, and told the crowd in Brigantine that his “top priority” is to get power restored.

While hovering over Seaside Heights, Obama saw a torn-up carnival and large pier that had been splintered by the storm, as well as homes that appeared flattened. They also flew over a fire, which appeared to have taken out about eight homes, according to a White House pool report.

And even though Obama had taken the day off from the campaign trail, one reminder appeared in the havoc: someone had written “Romney” in large letters in the sand at the northern tip of Point Pleasant Beach.

—Justin Sink contributed to this story.

This story was updated at 5:11 p.m.