Cruz Bustamante's Campaign Plan? Losing to Win

California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante at the NPR West studios in Culver City, Calif.

California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante at the NPR West studios in Culver City, Calif. David Banks, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Banks, NPR

California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who once tipped the scales at nearly 300 pounds, has made his new weight-loss regimen the centerpiece of his campaign for state insurance commissioner. Bustamante's strategy? if he loses, he wins.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

One of California's political heavyweights is trying to win votes by slimming down. After serving two terms as lieutenant governor, Cruz Bustamante is now running for state insurance commissioner.

And as NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, the candidate has made his diet the centerpiece of his campaign.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO reporting:

Meet California's lieutenant governor, Cruz Bustamante.

Mr. CRUZ BUSTAMANTE (Lieutenant Governor, California): I am 53. I'm 5'7". Right now I weigh 232 pounds. I am obese. I used to tell people I'm in perfect shape. The problem is that perfect shape is round and that is not good.

DEL BARCO: Bustamante once tipped the scales at nearly 300 pounds. He says that his weight has been spiraling upward since high school.

Mr. BUSTAMANTE: I'm always hungry and I'm always eating all during the day. In fact, I'm like that bear in the woods. I forage for food. I'm not eating just a little bit to be satisfied. I eat.

DEL BARCO: It dawned on him to get his eating under control after his father underwent open-heart surgery two years ago.

Mr. BUSTAMANTE: He had diabetes and he had a quadruple bypass. During that time, the cardiologist looked at me and said, you're looking at your future, Cruz.

DEL BARCO: Bustamante says that spurred him to give up his favorite Mexican food and barbecue and in January he began to diet and exercise.

Mr. BUSTAMANTE: No operations, no pills. I'm hoping that someday I'll be half the man I used to be.

DEL BARCO: Bustamante has a nutritionist but no personal trainer. Instead of the gym, he uses an old treadmill in his garage. Most weekends you can find him at charity races like the recent Bader Breakers(ph) event in San Francisco.

Mr. BUSTAMANTE: I stay under 1,500 calories a day and workout at least every other day for an hour. It helps burn calories, it helps your metabolism and, guess what, the fat comes off.

DEL BARCO: Bustamante has his own website, StartWithCruz.com, with recipes and a blog of his progress. Every two weeks he gets weighed in on a morning TV show in Sacramento.

(Soundbite of television show)

Unidentified Man: What were you at last week?

Mr. BUSTAMANTE: 238, I believe.

Unidentified Man: 238? Okay. So let's see...oh my God.

Unidentified Woman: Wow.

Mr. BUSTAMANTE: 233.5.

Unidentified Man: Wow. Hello. Very nice.

Unidentified Woman: Looking good.

Mr. FABIAN NUNEZ (California Assembly): He has become a diet freak. I've never seen him so cheerful. He says he's losing so much weight that his head is shrinking.

DEL BARCO: Fellow Democrat Fabian Nunez is the speaker of the California Assembly.

Mr. NUNEZ: You know you when you see Arnold Schwarzenegger talking about physical fitness, you look at, you know, what you'll never be able to do. He was Mr. Universe after all. But when you see a guy like Cruz Bustamante who's, you know, he looks like the regular Joe six-pack and he does this, then you know people relate to that.

DEL BARCO: Bustamante is hoping this connection also helps him gain votes.

Mr. BUSTAMANTE: You win when you lose weight.

Mr. JOHN BRUMMETT (Political Writer): It could well be true.

DEL BARCO: John Brummett is a long-time political writer in Arkansas. He's watched the governor of his state, Mike Huckabee, struggle with his weight, too.

Mr. BRUMMETT: I'm not really proud of it, but I'd given him a nickname because he was so big. I called him Wide Body.

DEL BARCO: Brummett even chided Huckabee after he slimmed down.

Mr. BRUMMETT: How could a man lose 110 pounds and still be too big for his britches?

DEL BARCO: But Brummett stays losing weight might help Governor Huckabee politically now that he's whispered to have presidential aspirations.

Mr. BRUMMETT: In politics, people have a brand just like products have a brand in the marketplace. And it's better, I think, to be the guy who's working to improve himself than to be the fat guy.

DEL BARCO: And if Cruz Bustamante needs some encouragement, he need only look as far as the governor's office, where former bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger weighs in.

Mr. BUSTAMANTE: He makes comments like, you're starting to lose some weight. You're looking very good now. You look younger.

DEL BARCO: Bustamante says his goal is simple, to go from being obese to overweight, though he says there's a fat chance he'll ever be skinny.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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