TRENTON, N.J. -- In 2010, Gov. Chris Christie underestimated the first major storm of his administration by flying to Disney World hours before snow crippled New Jersey. A year later, he overplayed Tropical Storm Irene with the now-infamous order, "Get the hell off the beach."

When Superstorm Sandy set its sights on his state, he had learned his lesson: be more hands on, more empathetic.

"I had a sense from the beginning that this one was going to be really bad," Christie, 50, told The Associated Press in an interview last week that reflected on a first term that has now positioned him in the national spotlight and as a potential 2016 presidential contender.

"With Irene, I went back and forth because the forecasts were going back and forth. When the National Weather Service says it's going to be a wipe out of the Shore then they start backing off of that, it's very difficult to set the right tone and, candidly, make the right decisions," he said. "I might have been firmer in Sandy if it hadn't been for the experience of Irene when I got everybody off the beach and nothing really awful happened there."

Christie, by his own admission, is "not a subtle personality" and he likes to take charge. Those two traits figured prominently in how the rising Republican handled Sandy.

From his frequent, televised updates to residents as the storm's winds whipped the state's beaches to his criticism last week of fellow Republican John Boehner's decision to delay a U.S. House vote on federal storm aid, his handling of his native state's worst natural disaster may one day be considered the defining moment in the political career of a budding presidential contender.

The timing of the storm – days before a presidential election – ultimately helped define his role in it as well.

Christie has been viewed as a nonpartisan advocate for federal aid since the storm hit Oct. 29. He embraced President Barack Obama's visit to the Jersey Shore six days before the election, inciting catcalls from conservatives.

And last week he smacked down Boehner for delaying a vote on the $60.4 billion storm aid package. Christie said he tried to call Boehner four times Tuesday, but none of the calls was returned. Christie's office received 800 emails in the hours following the governor's Boehner news conference, mostly positive.

Christie said he was just doing his job.

"It never struck me that what I should do is calibrate my language in order to be more political. My view was the (president) was helping us and I wanted to tell people. He deserved that credit," he said. "With Boehner, I would have reacted differently if the speaker had picked up my phone calls Tuesday night and explained what he was doing. The fact that 66 days had already gone by with no assistance, all that stuff conspired to create the reaction that I gave."

Christie has received almost universal praise for his handling of the superstorm. A late November Quinnipiac University poll showed 95 percent of those surveyed thought he did an "excellent" or "good" job managing the storm. The poll also found he'd won over a majority of women and minority voters, two constituencies that had not supported him previously.

People think of Christie as a guy who calls it like he sees it, said political strategist Tom Wilson, former chairman of New Jersey's Republican State Committee.

"He's a Jersey guy," Wilson said. "It's the quality that will carry him through the rest of his political career."

The governor's popularity surge couldn't have come at a more opportune time. It probably helped convince Newark Mayor Cory Booker not to enter next year's governor's race. So far only one major Democratic candidate, state Sen. Barbara Buono, has stepped up to take on Christie in November.

Even Senate President Stephen Sweeney, the state's most powerful elected Democrat, finds himself agreeing with the governor more often than not.

After Christie tongue-lashed Boehner over Sandy aid, all Sweeney could do was nod.

"I want to thank the governor for listening when I asked him to step up and call on his party's congressional members to get their act together," Sweeney said. "I am glad that the governor has joined me in heaping scorn on those Republican members of Congress who have left New Jersey in dire straits."

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    <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/04/chris-christie-2012-decision-_n_993910.html" target="_hplink">(Oct. 4, 2011) --</a></strong> Christie announced that he will not run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, vowing that "now is not my time." He quipped to New Jersey residents "whether you like it or not, you're stuck with me."

  • "Need You Now" (Lady Antebellum)

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/11/chris-christie-mitt-romney_n_1005601.html" target="_hplink"><strong>LEBANON, N.H. (Oct. 11, 2011) --</strong></a> After dismissing calls to run for president himself, Christie endorsed Romney, telling the GOP that he is the candidate we need now.

  • "How Do I Live" (LeAnn Rimes)

    <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/07/chris-christie-town-hall_n_1133756.html" target="_hplink">WEST NEW YORK, N.J. (Dec. 7, 2011) --</a></strong> At a local town hall, Christie did not take kindly to a <a href="http://videos.nj.com/star-ledger/2011/12/video_chris_christie_asked_if.html" target="_hplink">constituent's question</a> about how his administration conducts these types of meetings. He showed the individual little mercy, going "if I plant questions, why the hell did I call on you?"

  • "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" (Elton John)

    <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/08/chris-christie-mic-checked-occupy-wall-street_n_1136762.html" target="_hplink">(Dec. 8, 2011) --</a></strong> Occupy Wall Street protesters interrupted Christie during an appearance in Iowa, making him a target of the movement's "mic check" trend.

  • "Shut Up" (The Black Eyed Peas)

    <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/22/chris-christie-warren-buffett_n_1294579.html" target="_hplink">(Feb. 21, 2012) --</a></strong> In an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan, Christie had some choice words for Warren Buffett, surrounding the billionaire investor's desire to be taxed at a higher rate. "Just write a check and shut up," he remarked.

  • "American Idiot" (Green Day)

    <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/christie-argues-with-veteran_n_1334963.html" target="_hplink">(March 9, 2012) --</a></strong> Christie argued with a former Navy SEAL over the New Jersey's plans to reconfigure public universities. The result? Some fire from the governor's tongue, as he called the veteran an "idiot."

  • "Call Me Maybe" (Carly Rae Jepsen)

    <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/13/chris-christie-talks-vp-p_n_1423271.html" target="_hplink">(April 13, 2012) --</a></strong> Throughout Mitt Romney's run for the White House, Christie made it known that he was open to a vice presidential nod (should Romney ask him).

  • "Rocky Ground" (Bruce Springsteen)

    <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/19/chris-christie-sleeping-bruce-springsteen-_n_1438337.html" target="_hplink">(April 19, 2012) --</a></strong> Christie vehemently denied reports that he was sleeping at a Bruce Springsteen concert in New York City. <em><strong>

  • "I Don't Really Care" (Waka Flocka Flame)

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/30/chris-christie-jimmy-kimmel_n_1465608.html" target="_hplink">(April 30, 2012) --</a> Christie responded to jokes comedian Jimmy Kimmel made about his weight at the 2012 White House Correspondents Dinner, throwing Sofia Vergara into the mix. "I figured I was in the zone of danger," he said.

  • "Ready Or Not" (The Fugees)

    <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/14/chris-christie-gop-keynote-convention_n_1774525.html" target="_hplink">(Aug. 14, 2012) --</a></strong> After entertaining the idea of running for president and making Mitt Romney's short list of VP candidates, Christie was named the keynote speaker at the 2012 Republican National Convention. "I'll try to tell some very direct and hard truths to people in the country about the trouble that we're in and the fact that fixing those problems is not going to be easy for any of them," he told <em>USA Today</em>.