Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) toured the Point Pleasant beach boardwalk -- trying their hand at a football toss arcade game -- to highlight progress at a time when communities along the Jersey shore are preparing for the summer tourist season.
Christie must have had the home-field advantage. Obama missed five tries at the game, which involved throwing a football through a tire, before Christie made his only try. The two high-fived.
"That's because he's running for office," Obama quipped of Christie, who is up for reelection this fall. The vendor presented the president with a stuffed bear wearing a Chicago Bears football jersey representing the president's home town.
With Congress on spring recess, the trip offered Obama a chance to refocus public attention away from the controversies that have buffeted his administration of late, including the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups and the Justice Department’s secret accessing of phone records of reporters.
During remarks at the Asbury Park Convention Hall after his tour, Obama praised the resilience of the local communities, while also emphasizing the federal government’s response to the storm, which has been widely praised, including by Christie.
"You are stronger than the storm," Obama told a crowd of hundreds, which stood in drizzle for the outdoor event along the boardwalk. "The Jersey Shore is back and it is open for business."
By shining a spotlight on the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the president was able to endorse the role of government at a time when public attitudes toward the IRS have soured.
"FEMA was here before Sandy made landfall and it's still here today. … We’ve provided billions of dollars to families and more is on the way," Obama said. "We’re not done yet. I don't want [people] to think we checked a box and moved on. That's why I came back."
The trip rekindled the unlikely political bromance between Obama and Christie, whose tour in the wake of Sandy during the final weeks of the 2012 election helped the president make an appeal to moderate, swing voters by working in bipartisan fashion with a Republican governor.
For Christie, sometimes mentioned as a 2016 presidential candidate and facing a reelection campaign this year in blue-state New Jersey, the meeting last fall boosted his approval ratings and helped win his state federal resources. But Christie was harshly criticized by Republican Party leaders nationally for embracing the president during the heart of the campaign.
On Tuesday, Christie told the crowd in Asbury Park: "Republicans, Democrats, independents -- we all came together because New Jerseyans lives are more important than any kind of politics."