TRENTON, N.J. – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has won concessions from the state’s public-employee unions. He’s stopped the Democratic-controlled Legislature from raising taxes. He’s put hecklers in their place.
The first-term Republican has yet to win one of his biggest battles: shedding weight.
Christie, who turns 50 on Sept. 6 and will give the keynote speech tonight at the Republican National Convention, told Oprah Winfrey in January that he was working with a dietitian and exercising four days a week. Since that interview, he shows no signs of slimming down.
“He’s gotten a bit heavier,” said John Catsimatidis, the billionaire supermarket tycoon who has raised tens of thousands of dollars for Christie.
About a year after spurning a run for president – and being hospitalized for asthma that he said was aggravated by his size – Christie will take on a political role that in 2004 set then-Sen. Barack Obama on a path to the White House.
Christie contrasts with presidents, vice presidents and White House candidates who have sought to convey an image of health and fitness in a nation where two-thirds of the population are overweight.
Obama plays basketball and Vice President Biden works out regularly.
Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, uses an elliptical machine, and his running mate, Paul Ryan, follows the grueling P90x fitness routine.
Former President George W. Bush, who nicknamed Christie “Big Boy,” ran the 1993 Houston Marathon in three hours and 44 minutes.
“We live in a media age in which there are these conventional expectations of what a successful individual looks like,” said Russell Riley, chairman of the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program at the University of Virginia. “The closer you comport with those kind of cultural ideas about how someone on television looks, the better you do.”
As Christie’s national profile grows, his weight has become fodder for late-night comedians and social media users.
The governor declined to be interviewed or to answer questions about his weight.
Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the governor, declined to comment on whether Christie is following any weight-loss regimen, saying the matter is personal.
During a radio interview last year, Christie said that he doesn’t like talking about his weight because “you’re setting yourself up for failure.”
“I don’t like being overweight,” Christie told Winfrey. “I know I’d be healthier and better off if I weren’t.”
“I’m sure it frustrates the heck out of him” that he hasn’t been able to slim down, said Katherine Tallmadge, a dietitian and weight-loss counselor who has worked with members of Congress and White House staffers.
“These really successful people, it drives them crazy – there’s one thing they haven’t been able to overcome.”