* Says president "outstanding" in his response to storm
* FEMA has been "excellent," governor says
* New Jersey declared a federal disaster area
* Christie says doesn't "give a damn about Election Day" (Updates with quotes, background)
By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a fierce critic of Barack Obama, praised the president and the federal government's response to the massive storm Sandy, which caused widespread damage and power outages along the East Coast.
Christie has attacked Obama repeatedly on the campaign trail and said the Democrat does not deserve a second term in the White House, instead backing Republican challenger Mitt Romney in the Nov. 6 election.
But just hours after the worst of the storm knocked out power for 2.4 million people in New Jersey, just south of New York City, Christie applauded Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in interviews on major television networks.
"The federal government response has been great. I was on the phone at midnight again last night with the president personally," he told NBC's "Today" program.
"The president has been outstanding in this. The folks at FEMA ... have been excellent," said Christie, once thought to be a contender for the White House or possibly Romney's vice presidential pick.
Christie's praise came a week before the presidential election, with polls showing the race as a dead heat.
"I don't give a damn about Election Day. It doesn't matter a lick to me at the moment," Christie later told reporters in a press conference about the storm damage. "I've got bigger fish to fry."
Sandy made landfall in New Jersey on Monday night, leaving behind a trail of flooded homes, toppled trees and downed power lines in the nation's most densely populated region. At least 30 people were reported killed along the eastern seaboard.
Obama's handling of the storm's aftermath as well as Romney's response to it have the potential to become political issues and both campaigns are taking care to avoid missteps.
The president again canceled his campaign activities for Wednesday to deal with storm recovery efforts. Romney on Tuesday transformed what was intended originally to be a campaign stop into a storm relief event in Ohio.
Liberal group Americans United for Change was quick to circulate Christie's comments.
Earlier on "CBS This Morning," Christie said he spoke with Obama three times on Monday as the storm hit. Obama declared New Jersey a major disaster area so the state can quickly receive federal aid.
"I can't thank the president enough for that," Christie told CBS.
Previous U.S. presidents have had to balance a desire to be seen acting quickly to help disaster-stricken areas with the need to avoid having their own heavy security requirements disrupt already burdened local officials.
It was not immediately clear when Obama would personally assess parts of the East Coast.
Asked on FOX News on Tuesday whether he would tour stricken parts of his state with Romney, Christie said:
"I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested. I've got a job to do here in New Jersey that's much bigger than presidential politics, and I could care less about any of that stuff," he said, citing power outages, shore damage and extensive flooding.
"If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics then you don't know me," Christie added. (Reporting By Susan Heavey; Editing by Mohammad Zargham, Fred Barbash and Paul Simao)