Christie, 51, was already popular when Sandy slammed into the coast a year ago, damaging 360,000 homes and businesses and plunging 5.5 million people into darkness. His popularity soared as he donned a blue fleece pullover and led the state through its worst natural disaster, whether embracing Obama or consoling a tearful 9-year-old who had lost her house.
He also underwent weight-loss surgery in February and has been shedding pounds steadily since, a step that could dispel some of the health concerns that have hung over his political future.
Christie's bipartisan appeal does not sit well with GOP conservatives, who are the party's most passionate voters and wield outsize influence in Republican presidential politics. But in a Tuesday interview with CNN, even before his victory was official, Christie appeared to be looking ahead.
Asked if he was a moderate, Christie used a word rarely uttered on the campaign trail in recent days: "I'm a conservative," he said.
"I've governed as a conservative in this state, and I think that's led to some people disagreeing with me in our state," he continued. "The difference has been is I haven't tried to hide it or mask it as something different."