Two political heavyweights shared center stage today in Chicago as Bill Clinton and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie joined forces to headline the former president's two-day conference here.
"Now we're going to have a little fun," Clinton said in introducing Christie at the Clinton Global Initiative America event.
While Clinton started by joking about the two men's love of college basketball and heartbreak over the collapse of the Big East conference -- "Even as effective as you are and as I once was, we couldn't stop the Big East from dissolving," he quipped -- the tone of their conversation was far more serious, focused on Superstorm Sandy and Christie's leadership in the wake of the storm.
Christie said on a visit to the Jersey Shore last month he was struck by the emotional attachment that residents there have to the area.
"I can't tell you how many people just came up to me, grabbing at me, and saying, 'Thank you for giving us the shore back.' There's an emotional connection," Christie said. "I think as a leader you have to recognize that part of it -- that it's not just going to be a calculation that's arithmetic. It's an emotional connection. And you have to do things to try to give people that emotional connection to the place they grew up, where they took their children, and now those children are taking their children there."
In a disaster such as Sandy, he noted, people turn to government for help.
"When this kind of thing happens -- Republican, Independent, Democrat -- no matter who you are, what you are, you turn to government," he said.
Friday evening's appearance was only the latest in a string of bipartisan gestures by Christie, who opted to attend the Chicago event instead of the Faith & Freedom Coalition's conference in Washington, D.C.
In the aftermath of Sandy, Christie forged a relationship with President Obama -- highlighted by a late-May tour of the shore -- that alienated some of his fellow Republicans.
Christie should be praised, not blamed, for that, Clinton said.
"The enduring image most Americans have of you is standing there in your jacket grieving with your people, working with them, and working with the president -- and you got both praise and damnation for ignoring the political differences that you had then and still have with the president and all of us who are in the other party -- to do something that was really important," Clinton said.
It seemed that the two leaders from opposite sides of the political aisle could keep talking through the evening. When Clinton noted that he was being warned that Christie had to depart for the airport, Christie replied, "Ignore that."
Christie was not the only potential contender for the White House in 2016 appearing at the high-profile event, held at a hotel along the Chicago riverfront. On Thursday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kicked off the event, giving no clues about her own intentions for 2016 while delivering a half-hour speech focused on domestic policy.
Next year's CGI America event will take place in Denver, the organization announced today.