Christie Seeks to Address Weight on Own Terms

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie feigns a stern look Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, in Union Beach, N.J., after his was playfully asked about his weight.
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"I refuse to put it in political terms," said Christie adviser Bill Palatucci. "He's my friend first and foremost. I want to see him lose weight for himself and his family." He and others say the issue is serious for health reasons, if not the public perception that his weight may impede his performance in one of the world's most stressful jobs. But Palatucci also suggested that Christie's weight — particularly his struggle to control it — could ultimately become a political asset.

"In many ways to most New Jersyans, it's an endearing quality. It's why this guy is genuine," Palatucci said. "He readily admits he has a problem that he's been struggling with for 30 years."

So far, there's no sign it has affected his political standing in New Jersey, where registered voters late last month gave him a record-high 74 percent approval rating, according to Quinnipiac University.

Christie also has other — potentially more serious — political liabilities, and whether he takes steps to address them in the coming months could signal his political intentions. His brash manner could alienate voters outside of New Jersey, and conservatives — who make up the presidential primary electorate — are angry over his emphatic praise of President Barack Obama's response to Superstorm Sandy.

"He'll have some challenges within the Republican Party just because he gave Obama a French kiss on the Jersey shore," said Republican operative Hogan Gidley. "But there is also a perception issue for many candidates. Voters base their votes on some very odd things."

Gidley knows well the political challenges facing overweight candidates, having previously worked for Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a former GOP presidential candidate who also struggled with obesity. After facing an ultimatum from his doctor, Huckabee lost more than 100 pounds and wrote a how-to book, "Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork," before launching his presidential bid in 2008.

Christie has never released his medical records — an action customary for presidential candidates — and he bristled when his size came up during the 2009 governor's race.

He is hardly alone in his struggle. More than a third of adults 20 years old and older are obese and another third are overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus doesn't dispute that appearance matters for any national candidate, but he rejects the notion that Christie's size is a liability.

"His struggles that he has talked about actually make him inspirational," Priebus said Thursday. "I think he is extraordinarily smart. I think he's a talented governor. And so he's a little overweight. So what?"

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Peoples reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Bill Barrow in Atlanta and news survey specialist Dennis Junius in Washington contributed to this report.

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