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2016 hopefuls struggle to stay fit on the campaign trail

Catherine Lucey, AP writer

Scott Walker is counting steps on his FitBit. Jeb Bush swears by the Paleo diet. Bobby Jindal is a “gym rat.”

With long travel days and a fresh slab of cherry pie never far away, the campaign trail is notoriously unhealthy. But many 2016 presidential candidates are striving to make smart lifestyle choices as they tour the small town diners and pizza places of the early voting states.

“I try to do at least 10,000 steps a day,” said Walker, the Wisconsin governor.

He said he got the step-counting wristband for Christmas and competes with his family and staff to see who moves the most in a day. He added, “The FitBit’s got me obsessed.”

Walker isn’t the only candidate trying to get exercise on the road. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio does an early morning workout in hotel gyms. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also wears a FitBit and likes to take phone calls while walking. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum does at least 50 pushups a day and former executive Carly Fiorina works out on the elliptical most mornings, aides said.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who had back surgery in 2011, said late last year that he has a workout routine that focuses on core strength. Asked about his back, he said: “It’s good. I quit running and I quit wearing cowboy boots … I do a lot of pull-ups, pushups, planks, crunches, and I ride a stationary bike.”

Diet is important to many 2016 hopefuls, too. Bush has slimmed down using the Paleo diet, heavy on lean meats and vegetables and low on carbohydrates and dairy.

The former Florida governor has been known to toss the roll off his plate to stick to the rules. He cheats from time to time, though. In the spring he was caught on camera digging into blueberry pie in New Hampshire.

These efforts help with health and stamina. But the candidates also want to look good on camera and along the rope line in a selfie-ready world. President Barack Obama showed a disciplined approach to health and fitness during his campaigns, rising for pre-dawn workouts. First lady Michelle Obama is also a fitness devotee whose “Let’s Move” campaign strives to reduce childhood obesity.

Hillary Rodham Clinton tries to avoid pizza, work out regularly and do yoga from time to time, said spokesman Nick Merrill. And former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said working out regularly and opting for vegetables over fast food helps with the stresses of the trail.

“You can’t get sick when you’re in this sort of job,” said O’Malley, a fitness devotee. At 52, the former Maryland governor is in enviable shape for men half his age.

“So like an athlete, your body becomes your tool,” he added.

Politicians who struggle with weight must do so in public. Two years ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had surgery on his stomach to make it smaller. He hasn’t revealed how much weight he’s shed, but he has slimmed down considerably and gets complimented frequently by potential voters.

While the surgery means Christie’s diet is selective, he has taken time to indulge on the trail. At an Italian-American Heritage Festival in Des Moines, Iowa, Christie partook in a bacon-wrapped date, but passed other food he was offered to an aide.

“Oh no, no,” he reportedly said before indulging, according to The New York Times. “Iowa wraps everything in bacon!”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has been more vocal about his health. Huckabee dropped 100 pounds through diet and exercise about 12 years ago and documented his success in his book “Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork.” In the past few years, however, his weight has crept back up noticeably — especially for a man who made a public issue of his weight loss.

“I’ve eliminated sugar, fried foods, junk foods,” Huckabee said. Still, he said there are always temptations when campaigning and it is tough to eat a salad on the run: “The other day we were at Pizza Ranch, so I had a couple slices of pepperoni. We looked at each other and said, ‘We can’t do this but once in a while.'”

Voters can see for themselves how often “once in a while” really means.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, one of two doctors in the race, offers this campaign grub philosophy: “If you have to eat fast food on the trail, skip the fries. If you have time for a sit-down dinner, eat only half the meal.”

Still, some have a slightly less puritanical approach to eating on the road. The long and lean Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal says he loves the gym, which he proved during a lengthy workout, surrounded by security guards, at Milwaukee Gold’s Gym during a governors conference in the city several years ago. But Jindal said he also loves nachos.

“I’ve got an approach that is good enough that it will offend everybody because, a lot of people exercise a lot and say their bodies are temples and they eat really healthy,” Jindal said. “I’ve got the opposite mentality.”

He says he gets to work out almost every day and after he does that, “I should be able to eat what I want.”

GOP hopefuls have had that chance at the Iowa State Fair, where pork chops on a stick, deep fried butter and corn dogs are favorite treats. Also available this year: deep-fried nacho balls, apple pie on a stick and the “ultimate bacon brisket bomb.”

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