SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took his message that his state's shore is open to tourists to a national audience Friday and said he'll welcome President Barack Obama to a shore tour next week.
"For probably 80 percent of the Jersey shore, you won't notice any difference at all from last summer," Christie said on NBC's "Today" show. He said that hard-hit residential areas are coming along more slowly than business districts as homeowners wrestle with individual decisions of whether to rebuild.
The Republican governor was originally planned to be a guest host on the show, but was merely a guest instead because of equal time considerations less than two weeks before a primary election.
The show broadcast from Seaside Heights, where the storm swept a roller coaster into the ocean, making for one of the superstorm's iconic images.
The roller coaster was taken away this month, but Casino Pier, the seaside amusement park where it used to sit, plans to have 18 rides open this summer.
Up and down the coast, some boardwalks have been rebuilt, including most of the one in Seaside Heights. Beaches are open — many with symbolic ribbon-cuttings scheduled for Friday — though many of them are narrower this year. Southern New Jersey resorts such as Ocean City and the Wildwoods had relatively little damage.
When the storm hit in October, New Jersey sustained an estimated $37 billion worth of damage, with 360,000 houses and apartment units damaged.
Boosting the shore is important to New Jersey because tourism brings in more than $35 billion per year.
But some Democrats are complaining that Christie, a Republican, is promoting the shore as a way to promote himself as he seeks re-election this year. They take aim especially at a $25 million federally funded ad campaign for the shore. Christie and his family appear in a TV commercial as part of the campaign. He has said that not being in the ad because of fears of political criticism would have been a mistake.
The White House announced that President Barack Obama will tour the coastline with Christie on Tuesday.
Christie was criticized by some Republicans last year when he appeared with Obama and spoke warmly of him days before the president was re-elected last year. He said he'd welcome the president back next week because it's the job of the governor to work with the president.
"I think what people in my state want more than anything else it's for me to do my job," he said.
Christie was also asked about his repeated statements that climate change did not cause Superstorm Sandy, though experts say it likely made it worse.
"I've got a place to rebuild here and people are talking about esoteric theories," he said.