Republicans criticized Christie last year for praising Obama’s response to the storm in the days before the presidential election and for allowing himself to be seen prominently with the president. The storm not only took media attention away from Republican challenger Mitt Romney, it allowed Obama to strike an executive posture in the campaign’s final days.

This time, the imagery is less powerful but equally convenient. Christie, who flew with Obama aboard his Marine One helicopter, is running for re-election in a Democratic-leaning state, and Obama gets to be seen with a high-visibility Republican at a time that such bipartisanship is rare in Washington. Christie’s likely Democratic opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono, did get to meet Obama before the speech as part of a bipartisan group of about 30 local and state officials invited to get photographs taken with the president.

If conservatives remain wary of Christie’s overtures, Christie showed them one way to beat Obama: with a flick of a football. At a boardwalk arcade on Point Pleasant, the Democratic president and the GOP governor took turns tossing footballs at a tire. Obama shot zero for five; Christie went one for one.

“One and done!” Christie declared after making his throw.

“That’s ’cause he’s running for office!” Obama laughed, as he gave Christie a high-five ending with both men clasping hands.

The arcade operator, noting that Obama was from Chicago, chose a stuffed bear with a Chicago Bears logo and handed it to the president. As the men made their way down the boardwalk, the song “Jungleland” by New Jersey’s native son and Christie favorite Bruce Springsteen blared from speakers.

Later, under a steady drizzle in Asbury Park before a crowd of almost 4,000, Obama said the job of repairing the $38 billion in damage inflicted by the storm is not over. He said his return visit was intended to show he’s still committed to putting the federal government to work. When all is said and done, Obama assured people, the Jersey Shore will be better and more resilient than it was before.

“I could see being a little younger and having some fun on the Jersey Shore,” Obama said to laughter. “I can’t do that anymore. Maybe after I leave office.”

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