Christie zips back to NH campaign after blizzard diversion

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PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – After a massive storm slammed the East Coast with snow, ice and battering winds Saturday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie returned to his New Hampshire campaign on Sunday, where his wife, Mary Pat Christie had filled in for him since Friday, when Christie left the Granite State for New Jersey after forecasters indicated his state was in line for a direct hit by the blizzard working its way up the East Coast.

“She hung in there for me, doing my events, which means I am confident that my polls numbers have gone up,” he joked to the crowd. His wife has had a successful Wall Street career in investment management. She stepped away last year while the governor campaigned for the Republican presidential nomination.

Earlier last week, Christie faced criticism for his absence as New Jersey girded for the storm. New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat who may seek the governor’s office in 2017, said Christie’s failure to return home as the storm advanced showed “disrespect” for the people in the he was elected to serve.

The storm dumped more than two feet of snow in some areas of the Garden State.

In Portsmouth Sunday, Christie explained to the crowd that it wasn’t until Friday morning that it became clear the storm would be significant enough that he needed to be in Trenton, the state capital, to help handle the response.

“It was pretty clear to me at that moment that there was only one place I had to be and that was back home to do my job and do what I needed to do,” he said. “I think that the last 36 hours will show you something. This was our 17th snow emergency in the six years that I’ve been governor. That’s not counting Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Irene I am clearly the disaster governor.”

Christie said that because of those past experiences, he and his staff were well equipped to handle the most-recent storm. By noon Sunday, he said, the state’s roads had been cleared, airports had reopened and just 22,000 of the 100,000 who lost power were still waiting for the lights to come back on.

Christie has faced criticism over storms in the past. In 2010, he flew off to a Florida vacation as a major winter storm approached. Some roads in hard-hit areas went unplowed for days.

In 2012, in the aftermath of Sandy, which erased parts of the Jersey shore and destroyed about 350,000 homes, the governor received widespread praise for his handling of the devastating storm and its aftermath. Before the storm hit, Christie had ordered mandatory coastal evacuations, then declared that those who chose to stay would be on their own. At least 10 people in New Jersey died because of the storm and millions spent days without power.

But Christie’s embrace of President Barack Obama just days ahead of the voting in the Democrat’s bid for reelection provoked an outcry amid conservative Republicans, who saw it as helping Obama at the polls.

Christie’s views of climate change may reflect his experience as “the disaster governor.”

During the course of the two-hour Portsmouth event, Christie discussed climate change, along with a variety of other topics. The governor said atmospheric research is convincing to him, and he believes human activity can affect the world’s climate conditions. But his views differ from those of many climate scientists on how best to mitigate those adverse effects.

“Human activity is much greater than just the burning of fossil fuels,” he said. “I’m not an advocate for stopping burning fossil fuels any time soon. But we can work together to come up with alternatives.”

For example, Christie explained, tax incentives can help lead people and businesses to purchase energy from alternative sources, which helps make them more affordable. But when it comes to putting these alternative energy programs into place, he says decisions are best left to the states. He pointed out that while wind energy made sense in places like Iowa, with lots of sparsely populated regions, it’s less viable in densely populated places like New Jersey, where atomic energy may be a better choice.

“We, in the most densely populated state in America, have safely operated nuclear reactors for over four decades,” Christie said, referring to the partial reactor meltdown near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1979: “Three Mile Island was a long time ago. We need to get over it. The technology has improved and continues to improve, so we need to make that an option.”

When it comes to alternatives, most people would prefer to use power from cleaner sources, Christie said, provided it is affordable and reliable. He called for compromises to draw energy from multiple sources as a way to make that possibility a more widespread reality.