Insulating Christie and President Obama from these and other criticisms inevitable after a natural disaster: a mutually beneficial alliance between a Republican governor up for reelection in a blue state and a Democratic president seeking a legacy of bipartisanship. In two trips to the shore together, the men praised each other’s leadership, strolled the revamped boardwalk, and even tossed a football around. The feel-good, camera-ready moments contrast starkly with the venomous finger-pointing between the Republican administration under President Bush and Democratic officials in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. …

Christie’s team says he wisely focused on rebuilding and promoting the hardest hit counties along the ocean before the peak summer season. The area generates about half of the state’s $38 billion in tourism and vacation revenue, according to a 2011 report. The shore is also a nostalgia-washed symbol of pride for residents from all parts of the state and all walks of life.

“By taking care of the shore, the governor is taking care of the whole state,” DuHaime said. “There’s an understanding that the devastation was so bad that it’s going to take years to recover.”

A recent Kean University poll pegged Christie’s approval rating at 70 percent, an astonishing benchmark for a Republican in a Democratic-leaning state. Critics say elected officials from both parties, as well as nonprofit groups, are intimidated by Christie’s poll numbers, power over state recovery funding, and relationship with the administration.