ASBURY PARK, N.J. -- President Barack Obama tried his hand at arcade football and joked Tuesday with Gov. Chris Christie, declaring the Jersey Shore is back seven months after Superstorm Sandy bore down on its famed boardwalks and seaside towns.
The job of repairing the $38 billion in damage inflicted by the storm is not over, Obama said, adding that his return visit to a state he visited in the storm's immediate aftermath was intended to show he's still committed to putting the federal government to work. When all is said and done, Obama said, the Jersey Shore will be better and more resilient than it was before.
"You are stronger than the storm," Obama said, borrowing a line that Christie himself uses in a federally funded advertising campaign touting Jersey Shore tourism. "After you've all you've dealt with, after all you've been through, the Jersey Shore is back and it is open for business."
He said his message to residents in storm-ravaged New Jersey also holds true for those in Oklahoma recovering from the May 20 tornado that killed 24 people and devastated the community of Moore.
"When we make a commitment that we got your back, we mean it," Obama said. Gesturing to his host, Obama praised Christie for the "the great work he's done here" in leading the recovery effort.
A crowd of almost 4,000 gathered in ponchos and raincoats to see the president, who earlier Tuesday joined Christie at an arcade in nearby Point Pleasant Beach, where about half the boardwalk was destroyed in the storm. Christie won a stuffed bear as he and Obama milled about, chatting like old friends in a visit that underscored their status as the odd couple of politics.
"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," Christie said later as he introduced Obama.
The trip offered Obama a chance to showcase the widely praised Federal Emergency Management Agency at a time when attention has focused on the Internal Revenue Service and its targeting of conservative groups. The president was also able to draw attention to the kind of bipartisanship that has been harder to find in the nation's capital.
For Christie, the president's appearance was yet another way to showcase his beloved Jersey Shore. The Republican governor has been touting it throughout the Memorial Day weekend as a destination point that is back in business, and he broke a Guinness world record Friday by cutting a 5.5-mile-long ceremonial ribbon that symbolically tied together some of the towns hardest-hit by Sandy. The state has a $25 million marketing campaign to highlight the shore's resurgence in time for the summer season.