BOSTON – The short jokes began when Robert Reich had to climb up on a box behind a podium to announce his candidacy for governor of Massachusetts.
"At least I stand firmly on my platform," the Democratic candidate joked.
Ever since, Reich, who served as labor secretary for former President Clinton, has been turning what could be a liability into a punchline.
"Sometimes I start out lectures or discussions, particularly when time is limited and I say, 'They've asked me to be short.' And it usually takes the audience about two seconds to catch on to the fact that I'm joking," he said.
At 4 feet 10 inches tall, Reich has no shortage of material.
"When I was labor secretary. I used to stand up in front of business audiences and say, 'Do I really look like big government?' And I do it just because there's not enough humor in public life."
But there's one group of people that is not laughing. In fact, they accuse Reich of insensitivity and even belittling himself, so to speak, just to get votes.
"It's not right to make fun of us because of our size," complained Cara Egan, vice president of public relations for Little People of America, a support group for short people founded by actor Billy Barty.
LPA boasts more than 5,000 members nationwide, and Reich barely fits in. According to LPA standards, 4 feet 10 inches is the maximum height a member can be.
Egan claims it is a long shot that anyone will distinguish between Reich's comparatively tall height, and that invites ridicule on all those of diminutive stature.
"It's like, oh, I've got permission to laugh at Robert Reich for his height, so people are getting permission to laugh at others who are short," she said.
Reich said he empathizes with Egan, but she is taking it too personally.
"I can understand that some people are very sensitive about their physical stature or whatever, and I certainly don't mean to insult anybody. I do mean to make fun of myself and that's all."
Reich's short jokes seem to be playing well. The latest Boston Globe poll gives him 23 percent of the vote, the highest among the top five Democratic candidates and neck and neck with Republican Mitt Romney.
But Reich has a different way of sizing up the competition. He says he's head-and-shoulders beneath them.