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Chris Christie vows to make Sandy recovery his top priority

Holly Bailey, Yahoo News
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Chris Christie (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, speaking in his annual State of the State address against the backdrop of a potentially divisive election year, vowed he will rise “above politics” and make storm recovery his biggest priority.

The governor, who predicted it will take “years” to rebuild homes and infrastructure damaged by Superstorm Sandy, praised officials who moved “across party lines” to help New Jersey in its aftermath. Their actions, he said, are an example of what can happen when politicians put political bickering aside.

“One thing I hope everyone now clearly understands—New Jersey, both Republicans and Democrats, will never stand silent when our citizens are being short-changed,” Christie said. "Some things are above politics. Sandy was and is one of those things."

Christie, who again called on Congress to pass a Sandy relief bill, acknowledged that the toughest part of recovery is still ahead.

“Damage that only comes once a century will take in some cases years to repair,” Christie said. “We will need to spend our funds wisely and efficiently. We will need to cooperate. We will need to learn the lessons from past disasters and listen to each other.”

Still, in a warning that may alienate some Democrats, Christie said that "despite the challenges that Sandy presents for our economy, I will not let New Jersey go back to our old ways of wasteful spending and rising taxes. We will deal with our problems, but we will continue to do so by protecting the hard-earned money of all New Jerseyans first and foremost. We will not turn back.”

Christie’s speech comes as he prepares to face re-election later this year. Once considered vulnerable in the race, Christie has rebounded in public opinion polls in recent months for his handling of Sandy. A Fairleigh Dickinson University poll released Tuesday found that 73 percent of New Jersey voters approve of the job Christie is doing as governor, with 68 percent of those polled rating his performance as “excellent” or “good.”

Christie’s political standing in the storm's aftermath has also seemed to scare off some of his potential opponents. Last month, Cory Booker, the Democratic mayor of Newark, announced he would bypass a run against Christie in favor of exploring a run for U.S. Senate.

But some close to Christie acknowledge that the GOP governor isn’t out of the woods. A Republican adviser to Christie’s re-election campaign, who declined to be named, told Yahoo News that Christie faces immense pressure to help New Jersey rebuild. If the state hasn’t made clear progress by Election Day, said the adviser, Christie is aware that he may “pay a price.”

Christie, however, remaining upbeat in his speech, called on lawmakers from both sides to put Sandy victims first.

“Let’s put aside destructive politics in an election year. Let’s put aside accusations and false charges for purely political advantage. Let’s work together to honor the memories of those lost in Sandy. Let’s put the needs of our most victimized citizens ahead of the partisan politics of the day,” Christie said. “Let’s demonstrate once again the resilience of New Jersey’s spirit. And let us continue what we have started.”

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