It would have seemed inconceivable even a week ago that President Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would find common cause. But there they were Wednesday afternoon, thrown together by Hurricane Sandy, touring the storm-beaten Garden State and looking like the sort of nonpartisan leaders Americans want in a crisis.
Doubtless determined to avoid political gestures, political questions and political inferences throughout their joint appearance, the pair of new buddies stood to gain just that — maximum political advantage.
Christie may be a top surrogate for Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney. But he’s governor of New Jersey first and his high praise of Obama on Tuesday and subsequent tour with the president Wednesday had pundits certain both the rapprochement begins to position the governor not only for reelection but for a White House bid of his own in 2016.
Republican Christie has maintained power in a state with a double-digit Democratic registration advantage and where the blue party dominates both state legislative houses and the U.S. House and Senate delegations.
A friendly tour with the Democratic president paints the big, bombastic governor as a pragmatist who won’t let partisan politics get in the way when his state is in need. The press has been all over the fact that Romney once expressed disdain for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The governor of New Jersey, on the other hand, welcomed a federal disaster declaration and the earlier arrival of FEMA.
There’s also the matter of Christie’s own White House ambitions. Republicans pined for him to enter the race this year, the free-wheeling free-marketeer seen as the best antidote to the relatively colorless Romney. When Christie demurred, many political observers felt it was only to husband his ambitions and resources for a cleaner attempt in 2016.
Christie already fired a shot for independence when he appeared on Fox News on Tuesday, telling host Steve Doocy: “I have to give the president great credit.”
Doocy wondered if Romney might also get a tour of ruined Jersey. The governor would not hear of it. “I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested,” snapped the governor. He added: “If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don’t know me.”
Obama, of course, has to worry right now about presidential politics. And in the final days of a very close race he enjoys the company of one of his harshest critics (who last week said Obama was flailing to find “the light switch of leadership”) suddenly finding in the commander-in-chief reserves of presidential leadership.
What the president is missing—a day on the stump in Ohio or another swing state—he gains many times over with his short road trip with the Big Fella on the Jersey Shore.