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NJ governor pledges to vote Romney despite praising Obama

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie defended his praise for President Barack Obama after superstorm Sandy, but said he would stick with his fellow Republicans and vote for Mitt Romney in Tuesday's election.

"I endorsed Mitt Romney 13 months ago because I thought he was the best guy for the job," Christie said on Sunday during a news conference, reaffirming his support for the Republican candidate.

But support for Romney does not mean that he cannot appreciate the "good job" that Obama did while responding to the historical storm that hit the U.S. Northeast last week, Christie said. Sandy knocked out power to some 2.4 million New Jersey residents.

Christie, a popular governor widely seen as a possible Republican presidential contender in 2016, had frustrated some in the Romney campaign who feared he had given what could be a critical boost to Obama, a Democrat.

"If the president of United States comes here, and he's willing to help my people, and he does it, then I'm gonna say nice things about him because he's earned it," Christie told Israel's Channel 2 television on Sunday, referring to Obama's pledge of federal aid to help New Jersey recover from the storm.

Not all Republicans criticized the move.

"Christie would have been a fool to poke his finger in Obama's eye" considering the federal government would have a big say in rebuilding efforts, former Mississippi Governor and Republican Party Chairman Haley Barbour said on CNN's "State of the Union with Candy Crowley."

"You know, your network criticized me after Katrina for not criticizing Bush, for not saying Bush and him are doing a bad job. Look, A - they did more right than wrong, but, B - when they're going to be your partner for years, you know, you praise in public and criticize in private," said Barbour, who was governor of Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina.

(Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan, Dhanya Skariachan and Andrew Longstreth; Editing by Stephen Powell and Stacey Joyce)

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