WESTFIELD, N.J. -- The star of the TLC television show "Cake Boss" said that people should stop focusing on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's weight and focus instead on the Republican's record.
Buddy Valastro, the owner of Carlo's Bakery, told The Huffington Post during the grand opening Sunday of his new bakery that Christie's record on economic issues led him to endorse the Republican last month. Valastro is now chairman of a Small Business for Christie coalition, as part of the Republican's reelection campaign against Democrat Barbara Buono.
Valastro did stress that people need to forget about Christie's weight, as undue attention on the matter could have an adverse effect on young people.
"It is kind of sick, the world we live in," Valastro told HuffPost. "People talk about his weight, and we wonder why kids bully kids."
While Christie's weight has not been an issue in his campaign against Buono, it has been brought up in the past, including on late night shows. During his 2009 campaign against then-Gov. Jon Corzine (D), Corzine ran an ad accusing Christie of "throwing his weight around" in trying to get out of speeding tickets. The ad led to discussion over whether Corzine was attempting to make Christie's weight an issue, a charge Corzine denied. Christie underwent lap band surgery earlier this year.
Valastro said issues, not appearance, should decide who governs the Garden State.
"I don't care if the governor was fat or skinny, purple or white -- if he does a good job, he does a good job," he said.
Valastro, who called Christie a "straight shooter," said that his main reason for backing the Republican has been Christie's outreach to small businesses as governor. Valastro said that while he does not agree with Christie on every issue, he believes the Republican has done a good job and deserves another term. Valastro declined to identify the points on which he disagrees with Christie.
Christie announced Valastro's support during an Aug. 22 event in Hoboken, where he unveiled the small business coalition. Christie has long made small business issues a central part of his platform, including touting $2.35 billion in small business tax cuts since he took office. Buono has criticized Christie's economic record, saying that he has not lowered New Jersey's unemployment rate and has not helped the poor. On the same day that Valastro endorsed Christie, Buono toured a tent city for the homeless in Lakewood, a fact her campaign used to counter Valastro's endorsement.
Christie has consistently led Buono by between 20 and 30 points in polls all year.
Valastro told HuffPost that he believes Christie's policies will help him and other small business owners in the state handle the impact of Obamacare on their businesses. He said under the health care plan, his insurance costs have gone up 23 percent, which he said he had to pass on to his staff. Valastro said he does want lower health insurance costs, but does not want small businesses to have to pay more.
Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop (D), with whom Valastro has been allied, has argued that endorsements don't make a difference in elections, a point with which the Cake Boss said he agrees. He said he doesn't know if voters will be swayed to Christie because of him, but he wants to discuss the impact of the candidates on small businesses. (Fulop himself has not backed a gubernatorial candidate.)
Democratic and Republican officials at the bakery opening in Westfield agreed that Valastro's endorsement would not have a major impact on the race, but that celebrity endorsements can raise the profile of certain issues. Westfield Councilman Keith Loughlin (R) told HuffPost that he sees endorsements as a measure of public support for a candidate -- a point with which Westfield Councilman Dave Haas, the town's Democratic mayoral nominee, agreed.
"I don't think it convinces people to vote, but it is a show of public support. It is like the polls right now," Haas said.
UPDATE: 2:15 p.m. -- Christie on Tuesday accused Buono of making his weight an issue when she dismissed his Jersey Shore tourism ads as "frolicking" over the weekend.
Buono had cited the tourism ads, which star Christie and his family, during a speech and said that they would not persuade her to go to the shore, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Buono has long been critical of the ad campaign, which was paid for with federal money for Hurricane Sandy recovery.
"I don't know about you, but seeing Chris Christie frolicking on the beach is not going to drive me to go to the Jersey Shore," Buono said.
Christie used a Tuesday appearance to compare Buono's remarks to Corzine's 2009 ads, saying that the remarks were "really beneath the office that she’s seeking, and I'm disappointed that she's done it." Buono, when questioned by the Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday, said, "I'm not going to even dignify that with a response."
Buono's campaign spokesman David Turner, though, put out a statement Tuesday saying Christie's weight is not an issue and telling the Republican to "toughen up."
"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 in the statement. "Now, as businesses question the effectiveness of the campaign, he says that anyone who dares to question him is somehow attacking his weight. 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."