Is the Big Lug too big to win? What Gov. Culver can learn from Chris Chrstie.

( - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Is being overweight a political handicap? That's the big question posed by Daniel Engber in a very interesting piece this week at At issue, the contentious Corzine-Christie race in New Jersey and a weighty issue that has developed between the two men. Namely, the issue of weight.

You see, Corzine (D), the incumbent governor, is an average-to-fit 62. He considers himself a “health nut”. He runs marathons. For a man who was very nearly killed in a car accident two years ago, he is in excellent health. 

His opponent, Chris Christie (R), is an obese 47-year old. He considers himself “a Jersey guy, with a Jersey gut”. He jokes about his weight. He says that he has been heavy since his teenage years, and has tried to lose the weight several times, to no avail.

The controversy all started with this ad:

The ad doesn't explicitly mention weight at all. The gist of the ad, rather, is that Christie used his power as U.S. Attorney to get out of some nasty driving tickets. However, instead of the phrase “used his power”, the ad says  “threw his weight around”. In classic attack ad fashion, the ad closes on an unnatural slow-motion image of the opponent–only this time, he's getting out of a car–and well, jiggling.

As you can see, the message is pretty clear. Christie claims this is “character assassination”. Corzine claims that he “…doesn't give a hoot about Mr. Christie's weight.”

Still, the real issue is, is it working? The answer is, very likely yes. As Engber points out, two separate polls by  Public Policy Polling (.pdf) and the New York Times both confirm–independent voters are significantly less likely to vote for an overweight candidate.

And, as Engber tells us, that bias might just be reflected already in the nation's governors. Nate Silver at recently looked at the shape of the nation's governors and found that (in his non-medical, decidedly tongue-in-cheek estimation) only 10 (or 20%) current governors are visibly overweight. (He includes Gov. Culver, who he calls “squarish”, based on this photo.)

Engbert accounts for this disparity (remember that more than two-thirds of Americans are overweight) with the following analysis:

…there's no constituency for a fat politician. Conservatives see excess weight as a sign of moral failing or a breach of personal responsibility. Liberals sneer at the bloated American lifestyle, even while imagining the war on obesity as a fight for social justice.

What does this mean for our own Big Lug?

First, it's not hard to see something of a physical parallel between the New Jersey race and the potential governor's race here (forgive my poor Photoshop skills):

Corzine and Branstad 

Christie and Culver

The potential parallel between the two races raises a lot of questions.

First, would such an attack work in Iowa, or is it limited to the nasty political battlefield of New Jersey?

Would Gov. Branstad (or whoever the Republican nominee turns out to be–all the front runners are relatively fit men) use such a base, but seemingly effective attack?

Will Gov. Culver attempt to get in shape before election season, or will he follow in Christie's footsteps (e.g. “This is who I am.”)? 

Please, to steal a line from desmoinesdem, share your thoughts below. 🙂

Also, let's try our own version of the New York Times poll. I'll even use the exact wording. It's anonymous, so please be honest.

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  • according to Jason Clayworth

    citing the governor’s office, Culver is training for a triathlon in Florida this month. I assume this means he exercising regularly, with a view to getting in shape for next year. Anyway, he’s not as big as Christie looks in this ad:

    Branstad will do anything he needs to do to win. I will never forget his ad against Bonnie Campbell saying that as attorney general, she’d never prosecuted any sex offenders–not even child molesters. It was “true,” because the attorney general doesn’t prosecute sex offenders–county attorneys do. It was charged because there was a high-profile child abduction/murder not long before the 1994 election.

    • Would it work here?

      Do you think Iowans would go for this kind of playground “the other guy’s a fatty, fatty, boombaladdy” attacks? I mean, that might fly in New Jersey, but we’re generally more, well, nice here in Iowa.

      I agree, I think Branstad would do it too–if it would work, that is.

    • I too have been worried about such attacks...

      The Corzine/Chrstie battle has been interesting to watch. Looks like the Dem may pull it out although I’m NOT convinced it will be because of the “weight around” theme. It will be because of Democrats coming out of a slumber after a summer filled with Tea Bags and Angry Mob activism.

      In Iowa political attack ads are usually more subtle or less harsh. I recall the 2003 caucus battle when Dean & Gephart slugged it out – opening the door for both Edwards and Kerry to defeat Dean & Gep. Obama & Hil kept it fairly tame. There is a notion out there that Iowa Voters WILL punish those who are  too harsh commercials.

      The line will be very thin (no pun intended). It isn’t hard for me to foresee a “cut the fat” in the budget or some other “belt tightening” joke/animation/culver look alike…etc., etc.

      Its personally distasteful, but for some it works. If nothing else, it may be smart to release a “FAT AD” as a web video or in an fundraising e-mail and as a result just get TONS of free press and chatter about it (not to mention $$). That usually works best for direct personal attacks as opposed to wonk-ish complaint Ads.

  • I lived in the UK

    during their 1992 parliamentary campaign, and I remember a fellow American commenting that Britain was the land of homely politicians. It wasn’t just looks, it was haircuts, eyeglasses, the way they dressed–the average member of the British Parliament doesn’t look as smooth as the average member of Congress. I think Americans in general are focused on appearance more than voters in some other countries.

    • "I think Americans in general are focused on appearance more than voters in some other countries."

      I tend to agree, DMD.  Interesting post.

  • That's correct

    Ronald Reagan is an example of how American voters focus on appearence.  Reagan made a good image of a president.  His actual record was a failure.

  • two more thoughts

    First, Christie could still win the NJ governor’s race. I wouldn’t bet on that, but it wouldn’t be too surprising.

    Second, if Culver does drop a lot of weight in the next 6-9 months, that could even be a political plus. Americans love a famous person who’s lost a lot of weight. Huckabee certainly benefited from doing so (and he was much heavier to begin with than Culver–I think he lost 100 pounds or so).

  • November 3 update

    Christie won after all, but it was closer than it should have been given Corzine’s miserable approval numbers and the state of the economy.

    • Update

      okay, so i hate coming back to this thread, i really do. But did anyone see the Iowa Republican this afternoon! They have photos of Gov. Culver’s Triathlon.

      Normally, I’d say, yay for getting in shape. thats great. However, photos have emerged of Chet shirtless. eeeeeek. I’d say however, given the recent poll numbers, shirtless photos are the LEAST of his worries……  

      • I saw that

        but good for him to finish a triathlon. I’ve never even run a 10K. Presumably he will be in better shape in time for the Hy-Vee Triathlon next summer!