WASHINGTON -- Hurricane Sandy is throwing together President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie six days before the presidential election. Christie, a top Mitt Romney surrogate, praised Obama's disaster response -- changing his tune from last August, when he blasted the president as "nothing more than a Chicago ward politician."
Politics is a lot about perception, and while Obama canceled campaign events so far this week because of the disaster, he will look bipartisan and presidential when he tours the devastated New Jersey shore Wednesday with the bombastic Christie -- while early voting has already started in much of the country. Gallup estimates that 15 percent of registered voters already cast ballots.
Christie said Obama's disaster response was "outstanding" and shared in a series of interviews about how the two men spoke at midnight Tuesday and how Obama offered his personal phone number to call if Christie needed something.
"I have to say the administration, the president himself and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate have been outstanding with us so far. We have a great partnership with them, and I want to thank the president personally for his personal attention to this," Christie told George Stephanopoulos Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Obama visited the Red Cross headquarters here and later talked to electric utility executives in a conference call to urge them to do everything to get power back on. At the Red Cross, Obama said he is ordering officials "to cut through red tape. I want you to cut through bureaucracy. There's no excuse for inaction at this point. I want every agency to lean forward and to make sure that we are getting the resources where they need -- where they're needed as quickly as possible."
The Obama and Romney campaigns continue to recalibrate in the wake of the monster storm:
♦ Romney stumped near Dayton in battleground Ohio, relabeling his rally a "storm relief event," where supporters brought supplies for hurricane victims. With New Jersey and New York facing massive damages, Romney tried to avoid looking political while not becoming invisible. He's in Florida Wednesday.
The catastrophe revived the matter of how Romney, if president, would overhaul the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as he suggested he might in a June 2011 primary debate. His campaign told me Tuesday Romney would not shut down FEMA but "states should be in charge of emergency management."
♦ First lady Michelle Obama, sidelined in Chicago because of Sandy, on Tuesday visited the Obama for America headquarters in the Prudential Building where she worked the phonebank, calling supporters in Wisconsin. She got briefed on the state of play from top staffers.
I'm told Mrs. Obama was at the HQ between 12:45 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. and at one point delivered a pep talk to hundreds of campaign staffers. She focused her calls at Wisconsin -- where Ann Romney and Paul Ryan both campaigned on Tuesday and where former President Bill Clinton stumps in Eau Claire on Wednesday. On Friday, Vice President Joe Biden and Romney return to the Badger State. Mrs. Obama flew to Chicago Sunday to get ahead of Sandy, sprinted to Iowa for a daytrip Monday and overnighted in the city Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
♦ Ohio remains the premier battleground. While Obama stays focused on disaster relief (as the saying goes, good government is good politics) the Romney and Obama teams exchanged blows over ads Romney is running. The ads assert -- incorrectly -- that Obama policies are leading to Ohio auto industry jobs going to China. The controversy escalated to the point where denials were issued by General Motors and Chrysler.