In yoking himself to President Obama on Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie likely helped himself with the New Jersey voters he's wooing for re-election this year — but their public embrace could come back to haunt the Republican if he seeks the GOP's presidential nod in 2016.
Mr. Christie welcomed Mr. Obama after he climbed off Air Force One with a handshake, and before the end of the day the political duo had shared a man hug as well as a high-five after Mr. Christie won the commander in chief a stuffed teddy bear while touring Asbury Park's famed boardwalk.
Brigid Harrison, a political-science professor at Montclair State University, said the Christie administration has been working to cast the governor as a postpartisan Republican and Mr. Obama's visit will help drive home that message ahead of the gubernatorial election this fall.
On the flip side, Ms. Harrison said the "coziness with President Obama" hands Mr. Christie's potential GOP rivals ammunition to use against him in 2016 if he pursues the presidency.
"Of course Gov. Christie is aware of this, and I guess that he has made the calculation that the short-term gain in New Jersey outweighs the long-term damage that he would feel from his potential Republican rivals in 2016," she said. "What we are hearing is that he wants to come out with a victory in the double-digits in a blue state, and that would really bring some street credibility as far as his ability to win a general election."
With less than six months to go before Election Day, the latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Mr. Christie with a 32-point lead over state Sen. Barbara Buono, his Democratic challenger in the gubernatorial race.
The University of Virginia's Center for Politics, meanwhile, ranked Mr. Christie as a leading contender for the 2016 Republican nomination, placing him alongside Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Speaking at Asbury Park's convention hall Tuesday, Mr. Obama thanked Mr. Christie for his efforts in the recovery from Superstorm Sandy, and Mr. Christie struck a bipartisan note, saying the effort shows what can be accomplished when people rise above party politics.
"Everybody came together, Republicans, Democrats, independents, we all came together because New Jersey is more important and our citizens are more important than any kind of politics at all," Mr. Christie said.
Mr. Christie, 50, took office in 2010 and quickly developed into a rising star within the national Republican ranks with his combination of tough-talking style, charisma and willingness to take the fight to the public-sector unions in his state.
Mr. Christie, though, came under fire in the closing days of the 2012 presidential campaign when he publicly applauded Mr. Obama's federal response to Sandy — a move some said helped Mr. Obama win a second term.
He was later snubbed from the list of guest speakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the largest annual gathering of conservatives, after he lambasted House Republicans for not moving faster to pass a $60 billion package in Superstorm Sandy relief funding. And he faced criticism for announcing that he would accept a key pillar of Mr. Obama's health care overhaul by expanding Medicaid enrollment in his state.
But Mr. Christie remains intensely popular in his state and polls show that he received a bounce following his response to Sandy, and his very public embrace of the Democratic president is unlikely to cool in the near future.
"It's a story that began when Obama helicoptered around with Christie right after Sandy and some Republicans didn't like it. The reaction in New Jersey then was: Are they nuts? " said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
"And Christie said essentially the same thing. The loony right probably will still grumble but Christie made the two points that the governor is supposed to welcome the president, and there was a lot of clean-up money needed and it didn't hurt to have a friend in Washington. Most everybody seemed to agree. It ought to be the same this time."
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