EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) — Former Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney drew a sharp contrast between New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and President Barack Obama at a fundraiser Wednesday night in honor of Christie's 52nd birthday.
Speaking on stage in a hotel ballroom, Romney derided Obama as someone who has failed to take decisive action because he doesn't know what needs to be done.
Romney pointed to the rise of Islamic militants in the Middle East, saying the president should have supported moderates in Syria years ago. At home, he said, Obama was failing when it came to improving schools and attracting the best and the brightest, among a list of criticisms.
"These things aren't happening under the president because he doesn't quite know what to do. And I've gotta tell ya," said Romney, turning his attention to Christie, "I am proud to be on the stage with a man who knows what to do, who works hard for the people of New Jersey."
Romney went on to hail Christie as a "guy who will do whatever it takes to help the people in New Jersey" and one "who fights for the things he believes in."
Christie, who is considering a run for president in 2016, returned the favor by heaping praise on Romney, whom he'd supported in 2012.
"All have to say is this: Wouldn't our country be a hell of a better place if this man was the president of the United States?" Christie began, to applause.
"The American people, unfortunately, don't have the benefit of his leadership. But Mary Pat and I have the benefit of their friendship," he said, referring to his wife.
Romney has repeatedly insisted that he is not pursuing another bid for the White House, but speculation continues that he is weighing a run.
Romney kicked off the event by leading two renditions of "Happy Birthday" in honor of Christie, who was presented an elaborate cake by Buddy Valastro of Carlo's Bake Shop. The sold-out event was on track to raise $600,000 for the state Republican Party, a party spokeswoman said.
Those who attended said they'd come to hear Romney speak, but also to support the governor, whose national prospects have been tarnished by the George Washington Bridge scandal. And the contrast between the two was clear.
While Christie regaled the crowd with tales of his recent trip to Mexico and his family's failure to buy him a birthday gift, Romney at one point awkwardly told the story of how he'd prepared for a Christie visit to his home by loading up on food from his state's best Italian restaurant.
"I had enough to feed — well, Ann and I are still eating the food," he said. But Christie, he said, "sat there and picked at a couple of pieces of lettuce." He said he'd found out later Christie had recently had a weight-loss operation that limits how much he can eat.
Attendee Mark Bozzo, 62, who owns a small business in the state, said he had enormous respect for Romney's performance during the 2012 campaign and drove to Wednesday's event with a Romney poster in the back window of his white Cadillac. But he said he thought voters might react more favorably to a candidate like Christie.
"Gov. Romney is a class act and people would say that Christie's a little bit of a tough guy," he said. "But I think we need a bit of that."