President Obama might as well have been cutting an ad for the New Jersey state tourist industry.
“America, bring your family and friends, spend a little money on the Jersey shore,” the president declared Tuesday from the Asbury Park boardwalk. “You'll find some of the friendliest folks on earth, some of the best beaches on earth.”
Everybody likes a feel-good story, and for both Mr. Obama and Gov. Chris Christie (R), the ongoing revival of the Jersey shore after the devastation of superstorm Sandy last October is also a political win-win.
For Obama, who visited tornado-wracked Moore, Okla., on Sunday, the trip to coastal New Jersey was another chance to break away from the scandal narrative that has dominated the headlines out of Washington. It was also a chance to show his bipartisan bona fides, away from the hyperpartisanship of the capital.
For Governor Christie, getting some more Obama love – following the launch of the nation’s most famous political bromance last October – is also good politics. New Jersey is a Democratic-leaning state, and Christie is up for reelection this November. All his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Barbara Buono, got from the president Tuesday was a meeting with 30 other state and local officials before his speech.
And for both men, it was a chance to show the public that government at all levels is capable of doing something positive.
FEMA – the Federal Emergency Management Agency – is “working with the governor’s team and with the task force I set up to support families and communities who still need help,” Obama said. “Since the storm hit, we’ve provided billions of dollars to families and state and local governments across the region, and more is on the way.”
But the Obama-Christie lovefest may not last forever. Christie is widely expected to win a second term in November, and after that, he may well turn his attention to the 2016 presidential race. Obama isn’t allowed to run again, but will naturally want to be replaced by a Democrat.
If Christie runs, and can make it through the primaries – a big “if,” considering the muscle-flexing of the GOP’s right wing, and his controversial, gushing praise of Obama during Sandy on the eve of the 2012 election – he could be a formidable challenger. Already, Christie has shown major crossover appeal. Polls of the gubernatorial race show him winning a sizable portion of Obama’s 2012 voters in New Jersey and crushing Senator Buono.
Conservative commentator Reihan Salam calls Christie “the Republican Bill Clinton” – that is, a centrist who can save his party from its overly ideological image. This could be bad news for the former president’s wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, if she decides to run in 2016.
“If Christie wins by more than 20 points, then the bromance will be forgotten, with the Hillary Clinton Death Star waiting in the wings,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “And he will be a first-tier 2016 option. Charisma and a good lap-band story beat any perfectly articulated policy position in the 2016 general.”
The rotund Christie recently underwent “lap band” weight-loss surgery out of concern for his health. He cited his wife and three school-age children when he acknowledged the procedure earlier this month.
But on Tuesday, the talk was all about the recovery of the Jersey shore – and the fun on offer there for vacationers. Along the boardwalk in Point Pleasant, N.J., Christie outshone the president in Touch Down Fever, a game that involves throwing a football through a tire. Obama missed four times, while Christie got the ball through on the first try.
“That’s because he’s running for office,” Obama quipped.
During his remarks in Asbury Park, Obama also quoted a local eminence as he drove home his message about the Jersey shore.
“I think a friend of mine from here once put it pretty well,” Obama said. “ ‘Down the shore, everything’s all right.’ He’s the only guy a president still has to call ‘The Boss.’ Other than the first lady.”
He was referring, of course, to Bruce Springsteen, a big Obama supporter in both presidential campaigns.