Political rival praises Obama

By Anne Penketh

Romney looks on from sidelines as New Jersey Governor lauds US President's handling of disaster

President Barack Obama has won praise from an unlikely quarter - the Republican Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie - for his astute handling of Hurricane Sandy.

Obama's attention to preparing for the massive storm that swamped America's East coast and the way he has led the federal emergency response may change the dynamics of the presidential race a week before the country heads to the polls.

Obama will join Christie today to inspect the damage in his state, after the Governor praised the Democratic President for his "outstanding" handling of the hurricane which devastated coastal New Jersey with a huge tidal surge.

"I have to give the President great credit," Christie told Fox News, after earlier describing the President's handling of the storm as "outstanding".

Only a few days ago, the Governor was at a rally in Richmond, Virginia, describing Obama as "a man wandering around a dark room, hands up against the wall, clutching for the light switch of leadership, and he just can't find it".

Christie, who is widely seen as a future presidential candidate, delivered an endorsement speech for the Republican candidate Mitt Romney at the nominating convention in which he hardly mentioned Romney and seemed to be promoting himself.

Romney has politically sidelined himself by deciding to travel to the swing state of Ohio where he suspended campaigning to avoid being seen to be playing politics while a natural disaster was wreaking havoc along the eastern seaboard. The Republican candidate, at a "relief effort" stop in Dayton, was peppered with questions - which he refused to answer - about his campaign promise to transfer federal emergency responsibility back to the states.

He will be further isolated while in Florida for three "Victory Rallies" when Obama - who has also suspended political campaigning - appears alongside Christie in New Jersey.

When Christie was asked on Fox whether Romney might tour the damage in the state, the Governor replied: "I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested. I have a job to do in New Jersey that is much bigger than presidential politics."

Romney's position on handing back to the states the responsibilities now held by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will come under further scrutiny in the coming days. The New York Times said in an editorial that "a big storm requires big government". It noted that disaster co-ordination is one of the most vital functions of big government "which is why Mitt Romney wants to eliminate it".

The paper noted that Romney's campaign has said, since Hurricane, now Superstorm, Sandy made landfall, that the candidate would not abolish FEMA. "Those in Hurricane Sandy's path are fortunate that, for now, ideology has not replaced sound policy."

Romney's slip-ups since the weekend are reminiscent of Senator John McCain's mishandling of the economic conversations with the White House and Obama during the 2008 economic crunch, during which the Democratic candidate displayed more presidential acumen than his Republican rival.

Although Romney has been making steady gains on Obama in the swing states including the crucial state of Ohio, the incumbent's opportunity to shine after a natural disaster may yet reverse the trend.

It can't have helped the Romney campaign when Christie said of Obama that "he's done, as far as I'm concerned, a great job for New Jersey".

- NZ Herald

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