TRENTON, N.J. — It may be the defining image of Chris Christie in the days after Superstorm Sandy: the governor clasping President Obama’s hand, the president placing his hand on Christie’s shoulder in a moment of shared grief.
That embrace of the president — a Democrat days away from re-election in a race many Republicans believed at the time still close — still has Republicans seething and pundits analyzing how it will affect Christie’s national potential.
Politics, Christie said, never crossed his mind when Obama called.
“Part of what I don’t think people understand is, political people think I was sitting there thinking about, ‘How do I move the pieces on the chess board?’ ” Christie said during an interview with The Record ahead of the one-year anniversary of the storm. “I was looking at that saying to myself, ‘My God, what am I going to do?’ ”
But it was not until angry Republicans began calling him — two days after Obama’s Oct. 31 visit — that Christie said he started to think about the political implications of that hug, an embrace that came to symbolize their tight, working relationship.
Christie detailed that relationship in an expansive interview in his State House office to mark the one-year anniversary of the storm that reshaped both the state and his career. A politician adept at delivering his message, Christie seemed starkly honest when recalling the emotion of those days and when detailing how he tried to convey that shock to the president.
It was Obama who reached out and initiated the relationship with a phone call on Oct. 30, early on the day after the storm had slammed into the state, Christie said.
That first call came, Christie recalled, as he and his team were struggling to come to terms with the depth of the destruction as it became evident in television images showing houses in the middle of Route 35 and scenes of the ocean meeting the bay in Mantoloking.