President Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) will travel together on Wednesday to inspect the damage that Hurricane Sandy inflicted on the Garden State.
Obama and Christie make for an odd couple, especially less than a week before the 2012 presidential election. Christie ripped Obama at the Republican convention this summer during his keynote address, and in May, called Obama the “most ill-prepared person to assume the presidency in my lifetime.”
But the televised images of the two men side by side could help burnish Obama’s standing as a bipartisan, sympathetic and effective leader in the wake of the super-storm. They could also bolster Christie’s reelection hopes in 2013 and a potential White House run three years later. Obama is heavily favored to win New Jersey, which hasn’t voted for a GOP presidential nominee since 1988.
Christie, who endorsed Republican nominee Mitt Romney early in the primary process, attracted criticism for his convention speech in Tampa. Political analysts panned it, noting it took 17 minutes before Christie first mentioned Romney by name.
Wednesday’s joint tour by Christie and Obama comes on the heels of statements by the governor that were effusive about the president’s conduct in dealing with the storm.
On NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday morning, Christie described Obama’s performance during the crisis as “outstanding.”
“The president has been all over this and he deserves great credit,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
In another TV appearance, Christie was dismissive of the idea of Romney coming into New Jersey for exactly the same kind of trip that was later announced with Obama.
During an interview with Fox News Channel’s “Fox and Friends,” Christie was asked whether there was “any possibility” that Romney would go to New Jersey to survey some of the damage with him.
“I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested,” he replied. “I’ve got a job to do here in New Jersey that’s much bigger than presidential politics, and I could [not] care less about any of that stuff.”
Christie added, “If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don’t know me.”
Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday advised the president not to visit, saying, “...we would love to have him, but we have lots of things to do.”
The Romney campaign did not respond to a request for comment from The Hill. But some outside observers noted that the GOP candidate’s campaign is effectively boxed in.
“I think all the Republicans realize that they need to be extremely cautious,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. “I would be surprised to hear any kind of attacks, unless Obama falls short in some obvious way.”
But Juan Williams, a columnist for The Hill, said the New Jersey governor might feel the heat from his party in advance of the Obama visit.
“I can’t imagine that he’s not under pressure from fellow Republicans to hurt President Obama by politicizing it in some way that would be negative for Obama,” Williams said.
Williams asserted that Christie is more pragmatic than his sometime-belligerent image suggests. His response to Sandy could be a major asset — or, if it goes wrong, a lethal liability — to his future aspirations.
His praise for the president — which was also reflected in his Twitter feed — and his repeated references to several direct phone calls he had conducted with Obama should be seen in this context, some observers say.
“First and foremost, the state has suffered incredible devastation and he understands the need for the president’s cooperation and FEMA’s cooperation,” said Julie Roginsky, a New Jersey-based Democratic strategist.
“Despite the reputation he has nationally for being aggressive and a partisan warrior, he is a Republican governor of a Democratic state. He has to get past [reelection in] 2013.”
Some GOP strategists, however, insist that the chatter surrounding the Obama-Christie meeting is overblown. They argue that both the president and the governor are doing nothing more than discharging their duties, and that no real electoral benefit will accrue to Obama as a result.
“President Obama standing with Gov. Christie in New Jersey, talking about relief efforts, is not going to help him turn out the vote in Ohio, Virginia or Colorado,” said Republican strategist Trey Hardin.
Hardin argued that most voters had already decided whom they would support in the Nov. 6 presidential election and that they would not easily be converted, one way or another, now.
Others, though, detected some cunning beneath Christie’s approach.
“Gov. Christie is clearly someone looking out for his own political future,” said Zelizer. “And he is a little nervous about whether Romney is going to win this election. He acts in New Jersey’s interests — and in his own interests.”