Is Chris Christie Too Fat to Be the Next Governor of New Jersey?

For weeks, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine has been slyly playing up the fact that his GOP opponent Chris Christie is—how can we put it delicately?—a very big man. Unflattering photos of Christie's distinct double chin and wide frame have been a staple of Corzine's ads for weeks as he seeks reelection this year. But that's nothing compared with a recent Corzine TV ad that featured slow-motion video of Christie exiting an SUV, his girth, as The New York Times so visibly put it, moving "slowly, in several different directions at once." "Christie threw his weight around" to get out of traffic infractions, the ad says. Hint, hint.

For his part, Corzine innocently swears he's not playing the fat card, but it just so happens that as Christie's weight has gotten more notice, the gov has suddenly become a poster boy for good health. Corzine has been jogging every weekend—almost always in view of cameras—and his allies can't stop talking about how much weight he's lost since he's been governor. The only way Corzine could be more obvious is if he were to walk behind Christie and say, "Boom Baba Boom Baba," at his opponent's every step just like those old guys did to the fat kid in Stand by Me. Last week, the Press of Atlantic City asked Corzine point-blank if he thinks Christie is fat. "Am I bald?" he replied, touching his bare head. Of course, Corzine isn't the only one poking fun. Over the weekend, Christie gave an interview to the Associated Press, insisting that he's healthy and that his weight shouldn't be an issue in the campaign. AP's headline: "Christie Makes Light of Weight Issue." Clever.

The whole dust-up is so ridiculous, it's almost funny. But here's the weird thing: with Election Day just three weeks away, Christie's weight actually is starting to gain traction as a real issue in the race. A new Public Policy Polling survey out today finds that 11 percent of likely New Jersey voters believe Christie's weight is a "legitimate issue"—47 percent say it's not an issue, while 18 percent say they are "not sure." Of those polled, 19 percent say Christie's weight makes them "less likely" to vote for him, 78 percent say it makes no difference while 4 percent say it makes them "more likely." Sure, the actual number of those who admit to being concerned about Christie's weight is still statistically small, but it's still significant, especially when you consider that most people probably wouldn't openly admit that someone's weight could affect their vote—just in the same way that most folks don't own up to bias about age or race affecting their choice of candidate.

In some ways, what Corzine is doing isn't much different than what other candidates have done to call attention to their own physical attributes. During the 2008 GOP primary, Mitt Romney often went jogging around New Hampshire, cameras in tow, playing up his youth and vigor in a tight race with John McCain, whose age was a big issue in the campaign. But will Corzine's efforts backfire? The race is already tight. According to the Public Policy poll, Christie leads Corzine by just a point, 40 percent to 39 percent. Christie seems to have settled on a strategy to push back: after months of refusing to discuss his weight, he's recently given interviews about his long struggle with obesity, a story that will no doubt resonate with many voters. Just ask Mike Huckabee, who gained national attention for his own battle with weight. But should a candidate's weight really be a factor in whether they are fit to hold public office? No doubt the issue of obesity is a big one, especially as Washington debates health-care reform. The question is whether voters will hold it against Christie that he's overweight or write off the issue as just more dirty campaigning.