Steve Chapman

I have seen the future of American politics, and it is big. Big and fat.

You can get a glimpse of it in the New Jersey governor's race, which pits the slim, distance-running, Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine against Republican Chris Christie, who is built for comfort, not for speed. Corzine ran a TV ad accusing the challenger of "throwing his weight around" to beat traffic tickets, accompanied by footage that did not attempt to conceal Christie's bulk.

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"Mr. Corzine's campaign is calling attention to his rival's corpulence in increasingly overt ways," reported The New York Times a few weeks ago, noting that his "television commercials and Web videos feature unattractive images of Mr. Christie, sometimes shot from the side or backside, highlighting his heft, jowls and double chin." Meanwhile, Corzine has also made a point of taking part in 5- and 10-kilometer races every chance he gets.

For a while, Christie dealt with the insults in the classic manner of the overweight, gamely swallowing his embarrassment. "It's just part of who I am, unfortunately," he told The Times, while declining to state his current weight.

But the other day, he decided to confront his opponent. No, not by calling him bald, furry-faced and four-eyed, all of which would be understandable retorts. No, he took the high road by daring Corzine to stop the sly digs and say what he's thinking outright. "If you're going to do it," said Christie, "at least man up and say I'm fat."

By then, though, it had dawned on Corzine that ridiculing excess heft is about as shrewd as naming Andre Agassi as your drug adviser. In an interview on CNN, the governor tried to contain any backlash by conceding that it might have been wise not to call attention to his opponent's bulk.

It may have also been shortsighted for Corzine to invite voters to ponder traffic violations, considering that he suffered severe injuries in a 2007 highway crash in his chauffeur-driven SUV, which had been clocked at 91 mph. Oh, and he wasn't wearing a seat belt.

But the really plus-sized mistake was undertaking to alienate the hordes of voters who are carrying extra pounds. Nationally, two out of every three adults are overweight or obese, and while New Jersey does a little better than average, that is not saying much. More New Jerseyans look like Christie than look like Corzine, and they probably don't like being ridiculed by proxy.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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