Odd Politics as Obama, Christie Tour Storm Damage

President Barack Obama is greeted by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie upon his arrival at Atlantic City International Airport, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012.
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Christie and Obama, too, have been here before. It's been little more than a year since their last post-storm pas de deux in Patterson, N.J., where the two embraced on the tarmac as Obama arrived to view the devastation from Hurricane Irene. Then it was Obama who extolled Christie, crediting his efforts with helping to "avert even greater tragedy."

For Romney, who like Obama paused his breakneck campaigning Monday and Tuesday out of deference to storm victims, it can't be easy to watch a top ally walk in lockstep with his rival just days before the culmination of an incredibly close race. After all, it was Christie who was tapped to drive the Romney message home in August as the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention.

"I'm sure the Romney campaign wishes an effective surrogate like Chris Christie could be out blanketing the swing states," said Hogan Gidley, a Republican strategist and former aide to Rick Santorum. "But having served as governor, Romney understands the governor's duty is first and foremost."

Still, those reading the political tea leaves were left musing who got the better end of the deal. Some questioned whether Obama was visiting New Jersey, rather than another storm-damaged state, to defuse Christie as a campaign weapon for Romney — a claim White House press secretary Jay Carney rejected. "This is not a time for politics," he said aboard Air Force One.

Others wondered whether Christie, a popular Republican in a left-leaning state, was keeping just a speck of distance between himself and Romney, lest the former Massachusetts governor lose on Tuesday, leaving the 2016 Republican nomination wide open.

Either way, it's impossible to discount that a joint appearance with Obama offers a high-profile chance to appear stately, in charge — even presidential.

"Given the governor will be running for re-election next year, it doesn't hurt his standing, particularly with independents, to be seen as standing with Obama," said Brigid Harrison, a political scientist at New Jersey's Montclair State University. "And for a governor who clearly has made his intention to seek his party's nomination in 2016, to be appearing side-by-side with the president really lends his public persona some cache and credibility."

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Associated Press writer Julie Pace contributed to this report.

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