TRENTON - Gov. Christie is over it. He doesn't care anymore. But for the record: It was not a "hug."
"It was a handshake like you would shake hands with anyone," he said Friday. "It was a perfectly natural, casual, normal type of greeting between two people. And you know, it's become legend."
Six days before Election Day last year, President Obama met Christie on the tarmac at Atlantic City International Airport to tour the Sandy-devastated Jersey Shore. The ensuing picture depicted the men shaking hands, with Obama putting his left hand on Christie's fleece-clad right shoulder.
The photo had two effects: It convinced blue New Jersey that Christie was a reasonable Republican - a bipartisan perception that he will likely ride to a landslide victory in next week's gubernatorial election. But it also angered some conservatives, and it most certainly will be something Christie has to answer to if he seeks the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
Christie said he was constantly called to task about the alleged "hug," particularly by Republicans outside of New Jersey who haven't even seen the picture.
Those people "I think conflated my kind remarks about the president with the picture and it became more of a metaphor than an actuality," he said. Christie had praised the president's help with Sandy recovery despite the fact that Obama's election against Republican Mitt Romney - whom Christie had campaigned for - was around the corner.
"There are some on my side of the aisle who get upset that I didn't trash the guy," Christie said. "If he deserved to be trashed I would have, as I had many times before that. But he didn't deserve it."
In a one-on-one interview with The Inquirer about Sandy recovery in his Statehouse office, Christie also revealed that he still spends half of his working hours on Sandy-related issues.
Generally, Christie said, he doesn't "get into the granular" of policy issues. But with Sandy, "I really need to get granular because I'm out there with people, and they want to know certain things, and I need to know that to be able to answer them," Christie said. "So it's really consumed much more of a time than I ever thought it would."
Asked to grade himself on Sandy recovery, Christie gave himself an A-plus for the first three months immediately after the storm but said he gets a B for the last three months. That's because the process has had some difficulties, such as employees hired to handle cases who didn't do their jobs and had to be fired.
"There are always going to be bumps in the road," Christie said. "Have we made some mistakes? Absolutely. Of course we have."
But hugging the president - or shaking his hand - was not one of them.