With news coverage over the past few days focused largely on the aftermath of hurricane Sandy, the presidential campaign has been relegated to the back burner, even as Election Day fast approaches. Yet Mr. Obama has still made it into the headlines – most prominently, with Wednesday's high-profile tour of the devastation in New Jersey. Notably, it was a visit that the state’s Republican governor embraced with open arms, calling it “really important” and telling reporters he appreciated the president’s coming “very much.”
Perhaps even more eye-catching was Governor Christie’s public praise of the president, saying in one interview that Obama has been "all over this and deserves great credit," and noting that he’d spoken to him on the phone three times in one day. In other interviews, he variously described working with the president as “wonderful,” and he called Obama's response "outstanding."
Bipartisan praise like that is hard to come by these days – particularly from a top surrogate for Mitt Romney, who gave the keynote address at the Republican National Convention – and many analysts have pronounced it a big boon for Obama, politically.
Of course, Christie’s top priority right now is – and should be – the recovery and rebuilding effort in his state. And for that, clearly, he needs the Obama administration on his side. As Russ Schriefer, a top Romney aide, told reporters, Christie is “doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing as governor of New Jersey.”
But surely, the Obama-Christie “bromance” (as the media have predictably dubbed it) must have some Republicans wondering if Christie’s own presidential ambitions have, once again, conveniently undercut the party’s current standard-bearer.
In truth, Christie has always been a problematic surrogate for Mr. Romney. On the stump and in interviews, his brash personality and blunt style often threatened to overshadow the more charismatically challenged Romney. And the question of Christie’s own presidential aspirations has come up repeatedly. At the Republican convention, Christie’s keynote address drew unusual criticism from conservatives who felt it was transparently self-promoting (he notably failed to mention Romney until 16 minutes into the speech).
Yet while Christie's recent praise of Obama may seem like yet another indirect slap in the face to Romney, we aren’t sure it will ultimately help the president all that much, either. Really, the one who is most likely to benefit from all the storm coverage is – not surprisingly – Christie himself.
It’s in some ways similar to the relationship between President George W. Bush and New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the wake of 9/11. Even though Mr. Bush’s response drew praise from both parties (at least for a while), it was Mr. Giuliani who was in many ways made out to be the real hero of the moment. It's understandable: After a serious crisis, it’s often the local leader on the ground – the guy who’s directing emergency personnel, sleeping just a few hours a night, wearing the same clothes for days in a row – who really comes across as being in command. The person who takes on the mantle of “leader” in the eyes of a public that’s hungry for leadership.
Giuliani became “America’s mayor” and eventually parlayed his 9/11 response into a run for president (though by that point, much of the luster had faded). Now it’s Christie’s moment in the spotlight. And while the political reverberations may help Obama somewhat more than Romney, the real beneficiary, at least for now, is most likely to be Christie himself.