Updated 8:21 p.m.
In what might amount to the opening salvo of the 2016 Republican race for president, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) blasted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) Wednesday for appearing in a series of television ads designed to boost the New Jersey economy after Hurricane Sandy.
Speaking at a Senate hearing, Paul called the ads a "black eye" for ongoing recovery efforts.
He broached the subject during a hearing by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to review the federal response to Hurricane Sandy one year since the storm battered the East Coast. During questioning, Paul asked Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan whether it was appropriate to permit the New Jersey state government to use federal relief dollars to fund the ad campaign.
Donovan declined to take a position, but said that HUD studies have found that such ad campaigns "are effective in growing economic development" in storm-ravaged areas.
"It gives a little bit of a black eye to something that maybe a lot of it is going to a good purpose, but I would say that if I were in your position I would have said no," Paul said in response.
Then he added: "Some of these ads, people running for office put their mug all over these ads while they're in the middle of a political campaign. In New Jersey, $25 million was spent on ads that included somebody running for political office. I'm thinking there might be a conflict of interest there. That's a real problem. And that's why, when people are trying to do good and trying to use the taxpayer's money wisely, they're offended to see our money spent on political ads. That's just offensive."
Paul noted that New York State has aired similar ads, but that state law bars state officials from appearing on-camera.
The comments are consistent with the senator's general concerns with government spending, but come the day after the governor scored a resounding reelection victory and as Paul and Christie are said to be mulling runs for president in 2016.
Christie appeared with his wife, Mary Pat, in a series of ads developed by a public relations firm that urged people to return over the summer to the Jersey Shore and used the slogan, "Stronger than the storm."
In one of the ads, Christie's son says, "Looks like the word is spreading," and the governor replies: "We're stronger than the storm and open for everyone."
During his reelection campaign, Christie's Democratic opponent, Barbara Buono, also raised concerns about the governor's prominence in the TV ads. In August she said it was "nothing short of outrageous that this governor would put his ego and national ambitions above helping people." The Christie campaign accused Buono of stretching the truth about the nature and production of the ads.
Video of the exchange can be viewed on the committee's Web site starting at around the one hour and 26 minute mark.