Porky Politicians Drop Pounds for Votes

New Jersey's jumbo-sized gubenatorial candidate Christopher Christie beat incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine last fall, despite attack ads that showed Republican Christie at his heftiest.

Corzine, a Democrat, had accused Christie of "throwing his weight around" to get out of paying traffic tickets.

'Fat Governor' Goes For 'Lean Budget'

A month before the state election, a Newsweek headline asked, "Is Chris Christie Too Fat to Be the Next Governor of New Jersey?"

The governor's press office did not return a call from ABCNews.com to answer the question, but at the time Christie deflected the issue: "Better a fat governor and a lean budget, than a lean governor and a fat budget."

He also said he was healthy and had begun to take off weight. But now, six months after the election, Christie is still the poster fat boy.

"Let me be clear," said N.Y. State Sen. Craig M. Johnson, D-Port Washington. "I am not as fat as Chris Christie."

Johnson, 39, is purported to have lost the most of the all the New York legislators, according to The New York Times report last week -- down 30 pounds from around 250 on his 6-foot 2-inch frame.

After giving birth to their third child, Johnson's wife reportedly told him, "You are really fat!"

His weakness is ice cream. "She asks me to get the ice cream -- so it's one pint for her and two pints for me, and I can eat it all in the first sitting," he told ABCNews.com.

Now, Johnson is turning away sweets at banquets and speaking engagements and sticking to yogurts and lean meats. He never misses his daily run.

"I've always been a good public servant, but the weight loss has enabled me to really increase my amount of energy and to be more focused," Johnson said. "My wife says I am an energy bunny super-charged. Now I am the lithium bunny."

Historians say that television -- and perhaps now the visual power of the Internet -- have made looks all the more important in political campaigns.

"We often say that Abraham Lincoln couldn't get elected today not because he isn't as brilliant as he was 150 years ago, but he was not a very handsome figure," said Russell Riley, presidential scholar at the University of Virginia's Center of Public Affairs.

"We are now much more intimately aware of what people look like and their ability to appear presentable on TV," said Riley. "I haven't done any studies, but it would likely be the same for people who are overweight."

The fattest president in U.S. history was President William Howard Taft (1913-1917), who got stuck in the White House bathtub at 350 pounds.

Then, as now, voters sometimes presume that a portly politician is "personally extravagant or lazy," said Riley. "Most prefer not to have their public servants fat. I don't know how someone like Taft was able to overcome this."

"Americans like their public servants vigorous, more like Teddy Roosevelt or scholarly like Woodrow Wilson," he said.

Democratic strategist and ABC consultant Donna Brazile said voters have always been eager to "size up" the politician, "especially if they are XL."

"Long before obesity became part of the news cycle, politicians have used election years to get in shape to demonstrate to the voters they are up to the responsibility they are about to assume," said Brazile. "It's a way for them to really practice discipline."

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