Obama gets first-hand look at storm devastation

JULIE PACE Associated Press Published:

BRIGANTINE, N.J. (AP) -- President Barack Obama inspected the devastation from Sandy on Wednesday, flying high over flooded neighborhoods, sand-strewn streets and a burning fire that charred homes along the New Jersey coastline.

With Election Day less than a week away, Obama's visit to view the aftermath of the rare autumn storm was layered with political implications. The president's tour guide was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican and top supporter of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney who joined Obama on a Marine One helicopter ride over the region.

To the chagrin of some Republicans, Christie has lavished praise on Obama for his efforts in helping states deal with the storm.

Even though politics infuse every moment in the final week before Election Day, the White House sought to focus attention on the storm, an event that has given Obama an opportunity to project presidential leadership in the final days of the tightly contested White House race.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said there were no political motivations behind Obama's decision to join his supporter's rival Wednesday.

"This is not a time for politics," Carney said. "The president appreciates the efforts of governors, state and local officials across the various states that were affected by the storm, regardless of political party."

During the helicopter tour, Obama and Christie saw a carnival and a large pier that had been damaged, along with flattened houses and fragments of wood scattered throughout neighborhoods. Parts of the New Jersey shore's famed boardwalk was missing in sections and in one area, a fire was still burning and appeared to have taken out about eight homes.

As Obama and Christie flew over Point Pleasant Beach, sand and water could be seen covering several blocks of the community. But the president got a reminder of next week's election: someone had written "ROMNEY" in large letters in the sand at the north end of the beach.

Wednesday marked Obama's third straight day off the campaign trail. He canceled rallies across four battleground states and retreated to the White House to oversee the government's storm response. Obama stopped by FEMA headquarters in Washington before heading to New Jersey.

Obama planned to return to the campaign trail Thursday, with stops planned in Green Bay, Wis., Las Vegas and Boulder, Colo. He planned to be on the road campaigning every day through the Nov. 6 election.