Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: email@example.com
Did Jon Corzine really call Chris Christie fat in a campaign ad? The New York Times says that the answer is obviously yes. Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic, on the other hand, says that despite the offending phrase, "threw his weight around," the answer isn't quite so clear.
But let's say that Corzine is calling Christie fat or at least that now, with the media coverage, some voters will believe that Corzine is calling Christie fat. Will it work? Let's look at the evidence.
New Jersey is actually an unusually skinny state. As of 2008, the CDC reports that 22.9% of New Jersey adults were obese, which was 8th lowest in the country. Therefore, you can make the case that Corzine's move would be riskier if he were running in Mississippi or West Virginia or Oklahoma -- states with substantially higher obesity rates. Still, 23% of the electorate is nothing to belittle (har har).
One danger for Corzine, however, is that some of his core constituencies tend to be more likely to be overweight than the population as whole. From 2006-2008, according to the CDC, 33% of blacks and 24.1% of Hispanics in New Jersey were obese, compared to just 21.9% of non-Hispanic whites. Corzine will be in trouble if he alienates blacks and Hispanics.
All of that said, it's not clear to me that the effectiveness of this line depends on how many voters are overweight. Even skinny people might think it's crass to mock someone's weight. On the other hand, obese people might not identify with other obese people in the same way that, say, Catholics sometimes identify with other Catholics or Southerners sometimes identify with other Southerners or blacks sometimes identify with other blacks.
What my political instincts tell me, though, is that this sort of thing only works if it is so subtle that no one notices. Some voters viewed John McCain as too old and out-of-touch, but when the Obama campaign drove the point home with an ad mocking him for not knowing how to e-mail, it was panned as one of the worst of the election. Did Republicans really accomplish anything by mocking Barack Obama for his bowling score and for liking arugula or did they just make themselves look petty in the middle of two wars and an economic crisis?
Whether Corzine really was calling Christie fat or not, the perception that the governor is calling Christie fat could become a problem for him. Corzine would be well-advised to stick with figuratively weighty topics, not literally weighty ones.
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