NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie accused his Democratic opponent Tuesday of making a mocking reference to his weight when she suggested that the image of him "frolicking on the beach" was not a boost to tourism.
State Sen. Barbara Buono denied taking aim at Christie's size. Her campaign said she was questioning the effectiveness of tourism-promotion commercials featuring the governor and his family that ran all summer in an effort to bring visitors back to the Jersey Shore, parts of which were devastated by last fall's Superstorm Sandy.
In a clip from a campaign event posted on YouTube last week, Buono says: "I don't know about you, but seeing Chris Christie frolicking on the beach is not going to drive me to go to the shore."
Christie, the 50-year-old Republican governor and potential 2016 presidential contender, has long struggled with his weight — and joked about it, too. During an appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman," he pulled a doughnut out of his suit pocket and took a few bites.
"I'm very disappointed that she decided to go down that road, for me and for other folks across New Jersey, many folks, who are challenged by their weight," said Christie, who is noticeably slimmer since undergoing gastric band surgery in February. "The fact that someone running for governor would make derisive comments about someone's physical appearance is really beneath the office she's seeking."
Buono's campaign said she was trying to call attention to problems at the shore 10 months after Sandy caused billions of dollars in damage.
"It's time for the governor to toughen up and face the facts: His bluster and self-promotion have left business owners and residents across the state with one of the worst economies in the nation," said her campaign spokesman, David Turner.
Democrats have criticized Christie for spending $2 million in federal Sandy recovery funds on the tourism commercials, which ran as part of a campaign to highlight the shore's restoration. The ads featuring Christie and his family show them sitting near a beach, but not in beach attire.
"Governor Christie seems to think that everything is about him. First, he defended his starring role in a federally funded ad campaign as absolutely essential to storm recovery," Turner said. "Now, as businesses question the effectiveness of the campaign, he says that anyone who dares to question him is somehow attacking his weight."
Christie said the comments showed that Buono, who has trailed the governor by more than 20 percentage points in public opinion polls, is willing to mine the same ground as former Gov. Jon Corzine, his opponent in 2009.
Corzine ran an ad accusing Christie, a former U.S. attorney, of "throwing his weight around," part of an allegation that he used the power of his position to gain favorable treatment after a motor vehicle accident.
Corzine maintained the ad was about Christie's conduct, not his weight, and that he had simply used a poor choice of words. Christie did not buy the explanation.