By Steve Holland
ASBURY PARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - President Barack Obama and New Jersey's Republican governor, Chris Christie, strolled along the Jersey Shore boardwalk like old friends on Tuesday, a political odd couple just hanging out together.
The two men had a common purpose: promote the recovery of the Jersey Shore from the aftereffects of Sandy, a superstorm that hit in the final days of last year's presidential election campaign and which, because of Obama's well-received show of concern, may have helped him win re-election.
So when it came time to throw a football through a hanging tire at the Touchdown Fever arcade game on the boardwalk in Point Pleasant, it was perhaps inevitable that it was Christie who had a successful toss - an ungainly spiral - after Obama had tried and missed five times with his left-handed throw.
The two leaders, Obama tall and lanky and Christie mid-height and round, gave each other a celebratory high-five, and then Obama referred to Christie's re-election campaign.
"That's because he's running for office," Obama declared to throngs of tourists, who recorded it all on their smartphones as a light rain fell. Obama received the prize for Christie's performance - a stuffed bear. Then they worked the crowd together.
Christie may not though just be running for re-election this year as New Jersey governor. In fact, he may have sights on running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. His decision to undergo lap-band surgery to lose weight has been seen as a possible clue to his higher aspirations.
Christie and Obama also joined together for back-to-back speeches a few miles up the coast in Asbury Park. Christie indirectly referred to the Republican criticism he encountered late last year for praising Obama's concern for New Jersey when he said that Shore communities had rallied together in response to the storm.
"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," he said.
Though Christie supported the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, in the 2012 race, his compliments to the Democratic incumbent for his speedy response to the superstorm were seen as a boost to Obama.
Christie was not invited to an annual gathering of conservatives in Washington because of the huge Sandy recovery fund he sought and obtained from the federal government.
'JERSEY SHORE IS BACK'
Obama hailed Christie for the "great work he has done here."
"The Jersey Shore is back and it is open for business," Obama said.
Christie's Democratic opponent in the governor's race, Barbara Buono, also saw the president during his stop in New Jersey but with no fanfare.
She was part of a group of about 30 state and local officials who met privately with Obama in a picture-taking session before his speech.
Obama could probably use Christie's help again.
The president has spent the last two weeks trying to get past a series of controversies over his administration's handling of the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi last year, the targeting of journalists in leak probes, and the response to revelations that the Internal Revenue Service gave extra scrutiny to conservative-leaning groups.
Tuesday's visit to New Jersey was Obama's second tour of a storm-battered area of the United States in as many days. On Sunday, he traveled to Oklahoma to view damage caused by a tornado.
Obama has sought to portray his administration as being quick and effective at responding to natural disasters, in contrast to that of his predecessor, George W. Bush, whose administration was widely criticized for its handling of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.
(Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by David Brunnstrom)