NORTH WILDWOOD - For some politicos, it may be all about poll numbers right now.
But up and down the New Jersey coastline, where the local economy depends on the popularity of a beach town with summer visitors, officials say the only numbers that matter this time of the year involve cubic yards - as in the amount of sand on their beachfronts.
Tourism in New Jersey is a $42-billion-a-year enterprise that employs more than 300,000 people and accounts for more than 6 percent of all jobs, according to the Department of Labor. In Cape May County alone, visitor spending topped out at $5.79 billion in 2014, the latest year for which statistics are available.
"The beach is our lifeblood . . . and the sand is key to that," said North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello, who is among mayors, administrators, public works officials, and others keeping a close eye on how much work is needed to ready the strands for summer.
Rosenello in January found himself swept up in a political firestorm with Gov. Christie - who called the mayor "crazy" for saying Winter Storm Jonas was as bad as Hurricane Sandy - even as he was dealing with the ferocious storm's aftermath.
The snowstorm, which struck Jan. 22 to 24, decimated parts of North Wildwood's beachfront and deluged sections of the town with three feet of tidal floodwater over a 24-hour period.
Other parts of the Shore, particularly towns along the southern sections of Cape May County, sustained similar damage and experienced record tides - higher than any recorded there during Sandy - that resulted in historic flooding in places such as Cape May City and Stone Harbor.
Local officials called for an immediate disaster declaration. Christie announced three weeks later that 17 New Jersey counties had sustained an estimated $82.6 million in damage and that the state was seeking a major disaster declaration from the federal government in order to access grants and loans to help residents, businesses, and local and county governments with the cleanup.
So far, affected towns have received no money, but officials say they are wasting no time as the 12-week countdown to Memorial Day weekend begins.
"You have to be ready for summer; you really have no choice," said Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini, whose municipality covers parts of Long Beach Island.
Though the southern Ocean County barrier island was spared much of the winter storm's wrath, there was damage to some beaches and dunes in Beach Haven and in the Holgate section of the township, a mostly natural area at the southern tip of the island.
Mancini said dredges are expected to return to Long Beach Township in three weeks to begin pumping sand onto the beaches in the North Beach Haven section. The dredges will then move onto replenish Holgate.
After those portions of the beachfront are fattened, the sand-dredging operation will move up the island to North Beach. The replenishment work will proceed in three-block sections and should be completed by June.
"At that point, we will be in pretty good shape," Mancini said. "Jonas really scoured our beaches, and we know we are getting some state funding to pay for the repairs, so we are moving ahead because we really have no time to waste to get them back in order before summer."'
North Wildwood's Rosenello agrees.
"We are still waiting to see what the federal government determines we are eligible for. But in the meantime, we really need to keep moving, because summer will be here before we know it," he said.
The town is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the plans for the replenishment, Rosenello said, and then the project will be put out for bid. The town could work to place as much as 500,000 cubic yards of sand on North Wildwood's north end beaches.
The project could begin as early as April because the sand will be removed from built-up spots in Wildwood and trucked to North Wildwood. Much of the project would be finished by Memorial Day, although some work could extend into June, Rosenello said.
In some towns, moving sand around in time for the summer season will be more of a housekeeping chore than a major post-storm project.
Crews in Avalon will be "back passing" sand that moved from north end to south end beaches during the storm, said Scott Wahl, Avalon's borough administrator.
"We fared pretty well from Jonas. . . . We will be in fine shape for this season," Wahl said.
Scientists, meanwhile, are keeping an eye on how the beaches naturally rebuild - a phenomenon that occurs each spring as sand that is pulled off the beaches over the winter form offshore sandbars and then is pulled back onto the shoreline by a strong onshore flow, according to Jon Miller, a coastal engineer and research associate professor at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken.
The winter storm and another one in October set the Jersey Shore up for a winter that was "actually rougher than normal and left the beaches perhaps more vulnerable in certain spots than after Sandy," Miller said.
"These storms kind of remind us that it doesn't take a hurricane like Sandy to cause major damage along the coast and to create even more damage for some communities than they saw during Sandy and ultimately leave them very vulnerable," he said.
The result for some areas - particularly in Cape May County - will likely be rougher-than-usual rip currents created by newly formed offshore sandbars and narrower beaches throughout the summer.