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Republican New Jersey Governor Christie praises Obama
* Says president "outstanding" in his response to storm
* FEMA has been "excellent," governor says
* State declared federal disaster area
By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a fierce critic of Barack Obama, praised the president and the federal government's response as the brutal storm Sandy swept through his state and caused widespread damage and power outages.
Christie has attacked Obama repeatedly on the campaign trail and said the Democrat does not deserve a second term in the White House, instead backing Republican challenger Mitt Romney in the Nov. 6 election.
But on Tuesday, just hours after the worst of the once-hurricane knocked out power for 2.4 million people in the state just south of New York City, Christie applauded Obama and his administration's Federal Emergency Management Agency in interviews on nearly every major television network.
"The federal government response has been great. I was on the phone at midnight again last night with the president personally," he told NBC's "Today" program.
"The president has been outstanding in this. The folks at FEMA ... have been excellent," said Christie, once thought to be a contender for the White House or Romney's vice presidential pick.
The governor's praise comes just a week ahead of the presidential election, with polls showing the race as a dead heat. The monster storm has caused havoc up and down the East Coast, forcing Obama and Romney to suspend their campaigns for two days.
On "CBS This Morning," Christie said he spoke with Obama three times on Monday as the storm hit.
Obama on Monday declared New Jersey a major disaster area so the state can quickly receive federal aid.
"I can't thank the president enough for that," Christie told CBS. (Reporting By Susan Heavey; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)
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