President Obama is greeted by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie upon arriving in Atlantic City to visit areas hardest hit by the unprecedented storm Sandy. (Photo: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
By David Jackson, USA TODAY
6:30PM EDT October 31. 2012 - President Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- the newest political odd couple -- pledged Wednesday to work together to repair the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy along the Jersey shore.
The Democratic president praised the Republican governor -- and backer of White House challenger Mitt Romney -- for his "responsiveness and aggressiveness" in launching efforts to restore power, clean up streets and cities, and produce clean drinking water.
"I just want to thank him for his extraordinary leadership," Obama told reporters after spending more than three hours in damaged parts of the New Jersey. The president also promised federal help to local officials and residents throughout the northeast who suffered major storm damages.
Christie, normally an outspoken critic of Obama's policies, praised his leadership during Hurricane Sandy, saying the president "sprang into action immediately," and has exhibited "concern and compassion" for the residents of New Jersey and the northeast.
"It's been a great working relationship," Christie said.
Obama and Christie spoke after a helicopter tour that included sights of charred houses, sand-packed and water-logged streets, and busted bridges and boardwalks.
Obama said at a meeting with New Jersey residents affected by the storm, saying: "I want to let you know that your governor is working overtime" to repair damages in the state.
"The entire country has been watching what's been happening -- everybody knows how hard Jersey has been hit," Obama said, adding that his "top priority" is to get power restored.
"The country comes to help because you never know when someone is going to get hit by a disaster," Obama said.
Christie told residents. "it's really important to have the president of the United States here."
The governor, wearing a blue polar fleece, slacks, and white sneakers, greeted Obama earlier in the afternoon at airport in Atlantic City. The president was wearing khaki pants, a blue windbreaker, and brown hiking boots.
At least one Jersey resident showed some puckish political humor; on the sand at Point Pleasant Beach, someone wrote ROMNEY in large letters.
While the Atlantic City boardwalk appears to be intact, observers saw mountains of sand covering city streets up and down the Jersey coast. Pools and pools of standing water also dotted the landscape.
In Beach Haven, on Long Beach Island, entire streets are underwater, and buildings are pock-marked by boarded-up or broken windows.
Some of the worst damage occurred at Seaside Heights, where roads are covered by either water or sand. Both the boardwalk and a nearby carnival got smashed by Hurricane Sandy, leaving wood fragments everywhere. A fire that burned down at least eight house still smolders. Other homes lost their decks to the storm's fury. Abandoned cars remain on a bridge knocked down at one end.
Earlier in the day, Obama visited FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C., for another briefing on recovery plans.
The president also called the New York University-Langone Medical Center to thank doctors and nurses for evacuating more than 200 patients as the storm approached, said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
One topic Carney would not address: What impact, if any, will the storm have on Obama's fortunes on Election Day next Tuesday. Carney said the president is dealing with governors, mayors, and other local officials "regardless" of political party.
"This is a time to focus on what was a devastating storm and the terrible aftermath of that storm," Carney said. "This is not a time for politics."