WASHINGTON — Here's an image few probably expected to see six days before Election Day: President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — a Republican who is one of Mitt Romney's most vocal supporters — walking together in a show of government unity.
Politics makes strange bedfellows, and never more so than when natural disaster strikes. And so it was that Obama, mired in both disaster relief and the fight for re-election, landed Wednesday in New Jersey for a joint tour of storm damage with Christie, a potential future presidential candidate who delivered the keynote address that tore into Obama during this year's Republican national convention.
Stepping onto the tarmac in Atlantic City, N.J., Obama greeted Christie with a smile and repeated pats on the back. They walked side by side, two leaders confronting trying times, toward the helicopter that took them high above Sandy's destruction. Later, they walked the storm-ravaged streets together, talking with Sandy's victims.
"I cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and compassion for our state and the people of our state," Christie said later in Brigantine, N.J., praising what he called "a great working relationship" that started even before the storm hit.
"Gov. Christie throughout this process has been responsive. He's been aggressive in making sure the state got out in front of this incredible storm," Obama added, thanking the Republican for his "extraordinary leadership and partnership."
For political junkies, Wednesday made for interesting optics.
Setting the stage for the president's visit was a round of television interviews Christie gave a day earlier in which he lavished praise on Obama's handling of superstorm Sandy.
"The president has been all over this and he deserves great credit," Christie said in one such interview, noting that Obama had told him to call him personally at the White House should the need arise. "The president has been outstanding in this," he said in another.
Christie was much less effusive when asked whether Romney would be coming to help: "I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested."
This year, it's been hard to find a Republican, much less a celebrity politician, who has worked harder over the past year to elect Romney than Christie. The first-term governor turned down incessant calls to run for president himself before endorsing Romney in October 2011, then becoming one of his top fundraisers and campaign surrogates.
Christie, who is widely expected to run for re-election in Trenton next year, has also been an effective attack dog against Obama. "Stop lying, Mr. President," was his retort when asked in September how he'd respond if he'd been face-to-face with Obama during the first presidential debate.
But nothing brings two foes together like a common enemy — in this case, Mother Nature. The deadly storm, which led Christie to request, and Obama to approve, the designation of New Jersey as a major disaster area, neutralized the nastiness of campaign season, if only for a day or two.
"Chris Christie knows his job," former Gov. Haley Barbour, R-Miss., told The Associated Press. "He's not any less for Romney, but he's doing his job for the people of New Jersey."
Barbour is no stranger to the rare political dynamic that takes hold when the nation faces its toughest moments. The former Republican Party chairman was in his second year as Mississippi's governor when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, and in his second term less than five years later when oil started gushing into the ocean near Mississippi's coastline.
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