ASBURY PARK - The boys of October came back, just in time for summer.
"Jersey, you've still got a long road ahead, but when you look out on this beach - this beautiful beach here - even in the rain, it looks good!" President Obama said to thousands who screamed approval on the Asbury Park boardwalk despite a chilly rain Tuesday afternoon.
The Democratic president had just taken a tour of the Jersey Shore with Republican Gov. Christie - reminiscent of the last tour they took, in October, immediately after Sandy battered the state's coastline.
This time, the circumstances were different: Obama and Christie were taking something of a victory lap, highlighting the federal funds and local resiliency that led to dramatic rebuilding successes in some places. They also were using star power to tell America that the Shore was ready for the summer tourism dollars crucial to the state's economy.
While playing boardwalk games in Point Pleasant Beach, the unlikely duo also displayed some of the October "bromance" that caused some conservatives to criticize Christie for appearing with Obama so close to Election Day - and therefore helping him win reelection.
Obama went 0-for-5 in a football toss game, while Christie nailed a win on his first try. That earned the governor a high-five from the president - and a stuffed bear, which he handed to Obama.
Christie won "because he's running for office," Obama joked.
Christie, up for reelection in the fall, is expected to face state Sen. Barbara Buono (D., Middlesex), was among legislators who met with Obama before his speech in Asbury Park.
The joint appearance with Obama could only help Christie in Democrat-heavy New Jersey, political watchers believe, but could be a liability in a GOP primary if he chooses to run for president in 2016.
The conservative Daily Caller website promptly led with this headline: "Chris Christie wins a stuffed bear for Obama."
And so it was notable that while Christie warmly welcomed Obama in introducing him in front of Asbury Park's iconic Convention Hall, he did not offer the same effusive praise for the president that he had right after Sandy.
As if to head off criticism, Christie said: "Our citizens' lives are more important than any kind of politics at all."
"For all the folks who are here, the local officials, the county officials and the everyday citizens of New Jersey, the credit goes to all of you," Christie said. "Thank you for the opportunity to lead you. And welcome back to the Jersey Shore for the summer of 2013."
Obama, meanwhile, with a folksy lilt to his voice, praised Christie for the "great job" he did during Sandy. And he invoked the slogan for the federally funded post-Sandy Shore tourism marketing campaign: "You are stronger than the storm."
"After all you've dealt with and after all you've been through, the Jersey Shore is back and it's open for business," he declared.
Obama paraphrased a statement that Christie - "Chris," he called him - made after Sandy, saying we "cannot permit that sorrow to replace the resilience that I know all New Jerseyans have."
The rebuilding continues, he said. "That's part of the reason I came back, to let people know we're going to keep on going until we finish," he said.
Wearing a windbreaker under the rain, Obama acknowledged the Christie defeat in the boardwalk game - "although I did pay for his throws," the president told the crowd. He added that Christie's kids showed him how to play a game called Frog Bog.
"I could see being a little younger and having some fun on the Jersey Shore," Obama said. "I can't do that anymore - maybe after I leave office."
People in the crowd appeared to enjoy the casual asides, but mostly, they appreciated the proximity to the president. They cheered Obama's motorcade arrival, and someone yelled "I love you" as soon as he began speaking.
Spectators lined up for hours Sunday to get tickets and then again Tuesday to get choice seats. Many were without jackets, and most were without umbrellas, which were being restricted. But the mood was festive.
Obama said that this past Memorial Day weekend - in which "folks were hanging out on balconies and beaches, shows were sold out at the Stone Pony, kids were eating ice cream and going on rides" - indicated that the Shore was back.
"If anybody wondered whether the Shore could ever be alright again, you got your answer this weekend," Obama said.
"So let's have some good times on the Jersey Shore this summer and next summer . . . America, bring your family and friends!"
Before reaching Asbury Park, Obama touched down at McGuire Air Force Base and was warmly greeted by Christie. On the motorcade to Point Pleasant Beach, according to pool reports, throngs came out to cheer, but someone gave the politicians the middle finger.
Outside the Asbury Park event, protesters from the Sierra Club called Christie a "climate change denier." Although Christie has said he believes climate change is real, last week he again cast doubt on the link to the destruction that Sandy rendered.
Afterward, the environmental group issued a statement criticizing Obama for failing to mention climate change.