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Obama tours storm-battered N.J. with Christie

BRIGANTINE, N.J. -- President Barack Obama inspected Sandy's devastation from high above New Jersey yesterday, viewing flooded neighborhoods, sand-strewn streets and a still-burning fire along the battered coastline.

Offering reassurance, Obama later promised residents at a shelter that the federal government was "here for the long haul."

With Election Day less than a week away, Obama's visit to view the aftermath of the rare severe autumn storm was layered with political implications.

His tour guide on a Marine One helicopter ride over the region was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican and top supporter of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Afterward, Obama traveled to a community center in Brigantine, northeast of Atlantic City, where about 50 people had taken shelter and other residents were visiting for food, a hot shower or to power up their cellphones.

After both men doled out hugs and handshakes at the shelter, Christie said it's "really important to have the president of the United States" in New Jersey.

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

Obama was equally effusive about Christie, telling residents that "your governor is working overtime" to repair the damage from the storm.

"The entire country has been watching what's been happening. Everybody knows how hard Jersey has been hit," Obama said.

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

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

"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 were missing and, in one area, a fire was still burning and appeared to have taken out about eight homes.

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