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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, who has waged a fairly effective war on his main rival Chris Christie — played out every time I turn on the TV here in Brooklyn, New York — seems to have adopted an insightful new line of attack: pointing out to the voters that Christie is fat.

This, insofar is it goes, is true: Chris Christie is a large man. And one thing that’s certainly true of Americans is that they don’t elect very many fat governors. Running through pictures of the 50 sitting governors, I come up with only about 10 (20%) who are distinctly overweight, and only 3 (6%) — Haley Barbour, Bill Richardson, and Sonny Perdue — who are clearly obese. This compares with percentages on the order of 65 percent and 30 percent for the U.S. adult population. The skinny on the numbers after the jump.

Bob Riley (AL) — within the realm of average
Sean Parnell (AK) — fit
Jan Brewer (AZ) — pretty normal
Mike Beebe (AR) — unexceptional
Arnold Schwarzenegger (CA) — ripped
Bill Ritter (CO)moderately overweight
Jodi Rell (CT) — roughly average
Jack Markell (DE) — thin
Charlie Crist (FL) — in self-assuredly fine shape
Sonny Perdue (GA)pudgy
Linda Lingle (HI) — fairly thin
Butch Otter (ID) — skinny
Pat Quinn (IL)paunchy
Mitch Daniels (IN) — slight
Chet Culver (IA)squarish
Mark Parkinson (KS) — on the verge of underweight
Steve Beshear (KY) — thin, though not this thin
Bobby Jindal (LA) — skinny, though not this skinny
John Baldacci (ME) — trim
Martin O’Malley (MD) — rockin’ some biceps
Deval Patrick (MA) — varies from photo to photo, but about average
Jennifer Granholm (MI) — former swimsuit model
Tim Pawelenty (MN) — thin, mulletted
Haley Barbour (MS)the opposite of skinny
Jay Nixon (MO) — standard
Brian Schweitzer (MT)full-bodied
Dave Heineman (NE) — spindly
John Lynch (NH) — lanky
Jon Corzine (NJ) — not like that Chris Christie fellow, thank goodness
Bill Richardson (NM)fat; possibly getting fatter
David Paterson (NY) — weight, days in office are limited
Bev Perdue (NC) — medium
John Hoeven (ND) — needs to ditch the porn-stache, but not the pounds
Ted Strickland (OH) — narrow
Brad Henry (OK) — average-plus
Ted Kulongoski (OR) — appropriate
Ed RendellFlintstonian
Donald Carcieri (RI) — customary
Mark Sanford (SC) — a delicate, lovestruck flower
Mike Rounds (SD) — not especially round, actually
Phil Bredesen (TN) — average
Rick Perry (TX) — dapper
Gary Herbert (UT) — humdrum
Jim Douglas (VT) — skinnyish
Tim Kaine (VA) — not quite overweight
Christine Gregoire (WA) — attenuated
Joe Manchin (WV) — normal
Jim Doyle (WI)big
Dave Freudenthal (WY)blocky

Now, some of the cases are debatable — my classifications are probably a bit conservative given that overweight is the new normal in America. Perhaps someone like Brad Henry or Oklahoma or Tim Kaine of Virgina would meet the clinical definition of overweight, along with a few others. Still, it’s clear that overweight governors are considerably underrepresented as a percentage of the U.S. population. As an electoral handicap, it probably doesn’t rival being atheist or (avowedly!) gay, but I’d probably bet on the skinny woman before the fat man, all else being equal.

It would take a lot of work to figure this out, but I’d guess that this is a relatively recent phenomenon. We’ve elected quite a few fat Presidents … William Howard Taft, Grover Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt — and Bill Clinton really, though he wore it well. And those men (with the partial exception of Clinton) were elected at a time where being obese was far less typical than it is today.

Certainly, you can see where the Corzine campaign is hoping to go with this one. Let your mind run wild with the not-so-subtle implications: Christie is a fat slob who is underprepared for the pressures of office, a fat cat who will sell out to the special interests, etc. Undoubtedly, their crack research staff uncovered some evidence that Christie’s weight is a vulnerability, or at least could be associated with other negatives about him.

But it’s one thing for your opponent’s weight to be a vulnerability, and another thing to point that out to the voters without looking like an a-hole.

There have been many, many campaigns waged over the years that deftly (or not-so-deftly) implied that the opponent was a closet homosexual, Muslim, communist, or atheist. But being fat isn’t like those other things: it’s something that everyone can see for themselves. There is no plus-sized closet for fat people, so to speak. And our nation’s relationship with obesity and obese people is complicated. Although fat people are perhaps by default objects of disdain, it doesn’t take very much to turn them into everyman-ish Bubbas — objects of sympathy.

Corzine remains in a much better position than he was a month ago. But if this is his campaign’s idea of an endgame, he’s liable to send Christie’s big, fat ass to Trenton.

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