The leading man of what perhaps was the presidential campaign's most intriguing subplot stepped into public view the morning after the election wearing a now-trademark blue fleece and warning of an approaching nor'easter.
With an epic storm having crippled part of his state and another on the way, Gov. Christie was still in disaster mode Wednesday morning, allowing him to easily deflect the many questions that circulated after fellow Republican Mitt Romney lost his bid for the presidency.
Was he responsible for Romney's loss after he buddied up with President Obama last week? No. Was he running for president in 2016? He loves his job now. And what about reelection next year?
"I'm dealing with this storm, man," Christie said, flanked by emergency workers on Long Beach Island. "I don't have a timetable on any of that other political stuff."
But Christie, who on Wednesday called himself the most important Romney surrogate other than vice presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), has been surrounded by political intrigue from the start. The governor's presence book-ended the 2012 campaign.
Thirteen months ago, he was a sought-after potential candidate who had yet to declare. After opting out of the presidential race in a nationally televised news conference, he became among the first in the nation to endorse Romney, affirming him as a front-runner in the Republican primary.
Christie stole headlines throughout the race. He went after hecklers at a Romney rally in New Hampshire before the first vote of the primary season had been cast, and he delivered a convention keynote speech that some Republicans murmured was too Christie-centric.
At the end, in a remarkable display of bipartisanship just six days before the election, Christie toured the Sandy-ravaged Jersey Shore with the president - the very man he had campaigned against - and praised him for helping in Sandy's aftermath.
Even before the polls closed Tuesday, some conservatives blamed Christie for "embracing" Obama, saying it ruined Romney's chances.
"I wouldn't call what I did an embrace of Barack Obama," Christie said Wednesday. "The fact of the matter is, I'm a guy who tells the truth all the time, and if the president of the United States does something good, I was going to say he did something good and give him credit for it."
That doesn't take away from the fact that he raised tens of millions of dollars for Romney and traveled tens of thousands of miles on his behalf, Christie said.
"I was extraordinarily disappointed last night; I was surprised it ended as quickly as it did," he said. "But that's the way it goes."
Christie said he didn't want to bother Romney on the phone so soon after the loss, but he said he would contact him by e-mail (their preferred mode of communication) later in the day.
He said he would not say why Romney lost, because he was not a "pundit."
The Internet and cable TV had no shortage of pundits Wednesday, though, offering one reason for Romney's loss: Christie.
Fox News cited exit polls showing that Obama's handling of Sandy was the most important factor for 15 percent of voters. Commentator Monica Crowley said Christie's association with Obama "damaged Mitt's narrative, that he was the only one who could work across the aisle.
Conservative pundit Dick Morris, who had predicted a Romney landslide, explained in a column that he underestimated the effect of Christie's "fawning promotion of Obama's presidential leadership," which "made all the difference" in the election.
From the left, Chris Matthews on MSNBC agreed: "It really may have put this election back on track for Obama."
The blame-game began before Election Day. Early in the week, the Huffington Post reported, based on anonymous sources, that Christie had turned down Romney's request to appear at a rally Sunday night in Bucks County.
Christie denied that, saying Romney knew he couldn't leave New Jersey during a crisis. He said he surmised that the "noise" was "coming from know-nothing, disgruntled Romney staffers who, you know, don't like the fact that I said nice things about the president."
They weren't the only one. Rupert Murdoch, chief executive of News Corp., which owns Fox, tweeted in the waning days of the campaign: "Christie, while thanking O, must re-declare for Romney, or take blame for next four dire years."
By 8 o'clock Election Night, Fox host Bill O'Reilly said Christie's walk "down the beach" with Obama "wiped [Romney's] campaign off the map."
Christie's brother, Todd, took to Facebook to lash out at those who pinned the Romney loss on the governor.
"Amazing to me, listening to the far right try and blame an apparent Romney defeat on the Governor of NJ thanking a sitting President for expediting aid to a state ripped apart by a natural disaster," he wrote.
Christie himself was less combative Wednesday.
"I don't think I'm ever responsible for anybody else's wins, and I don't think I'm responsible for anybody else's losses," he said.
Beyond the sniping, there were less cynical analyses of Christie's approach.
Jon Stewart concluded his Election Night Daily Show on a serious note, saying Christie and Obama taught America a "remarkable lesson" on how bipartisanship could work.
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), a long-standing Christie foe, mentioned Christie's name in a speech after his reelection Tuesday, describing Christie as someone who would help the state recover from Sandy.
And Obama seemed to give Christie a shout-out in his victory speech: "I've seen [the American spirit] on the shores of New Jersey and New York, where leaders from every party and level of government have swept aside their differences to help a community rebuild from the wreckage of a terrible storm."
But in the social-media sphere, there was open speculation that there were other motives at play. A mock video depicted Christie celebrating Romney's loss because it would mean Christie could run for president in an open field in 2016.
As talk of 2016 dominated the chatter Wednesday, Christie was listed as one of the top candidates.
"I want to get through this storm today, OK?" Christie said when he was asked if he was the new leader of the Republican Party.
He added: "Politics becomes much smaller when you're dealing with life-and-death issues."