Caitlyn Jenner begins her campaign for California governor with a prized commodity for a candidate — celebrity. But while her name is widely recognized, what she would do in the job remains a mystery.
The state’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, is likely to face a recall election this year.
Newsom, a first-term Democrat, is facing a likely recall election this year, though officials still are reviewing petition signatures required to qualify the proposal for the ballot. County election officials are required to submit their final signature tallies to the state no later than next Thursday.
Jenner, a 71-year-old Republican, said she had filed paperwork to run for the office.
“Californians want better and need better from their politicians,” she wrote on Twitter.
“It would be a mistake to view her of one of these ‘circus candidates,’ ” said Thad Kousser, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego.
Jenner — an Olympic hero, reality TV personality and transgender rights activist — announced “I’m in” on Twitter on Friday, joining a growing list of candidates seeking to oust Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom from office.
“Taking on entrenched Sacramento politicians and the special interests that fund them requires a fighter who isn’t afraid to do what is right. I am a proven winner and the only outsider who can put an end to Gavin Newsom’s disastrous time as governor.”
Jenner criticized Newsom’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has been unpopular with many in the state.
“Small businesses have been devastated because of the over-restrictive lockdown. An entire generation of children have lost a year of education and have been prevented from going back to school, participating in activities, or socializing with their friends,” she wrote.
If the recall effort gathers enough signatures to trigger an election, as Newsom says he expects it will, Californians will be asked to cast two votes: whether to remove the governor and to choose a replacement from a list of candidates.
There have been several gubernatorial recall efforts in recent years, but only one reached the signature threshold. In 2003, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was recalled, and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger replaced him.
Jenner, who came out as a transgender woman in 2015, released a statement that sketched only a vague outline of what her agenda might look like. Cutting taxes. Repairing the economy. Fighting special interests and California’s Democratic-dominated politics.
A Politico analysis of Jenner’s voting record found that she did not vote in the 2016 election won by former President Donald Trump, and voted only nine times in California’s 26 statewide elections since 2000.
The Los Angeles Times noted that the GOP has not won a statewide election in California since 2006 — but it can take far fewer votes to win the governorship through a recall than a normal election. There can be scores of replacement candidates on the ballot (as there were in 2003); Newsom can’t appear on the replacement ballot, and it’s possible no prominent Democrat will run. And unlike a regular election, there is no primary.
Though Jenner is among the most prominent transgender people in the U.S., other LGBTQ activists weren’t necessarily cheering her entry into the race.
Nearly two decades ago, Hollywood fame helped elevate another Republican, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to the governor’s chair. But he had already made a name in state politics, working to enact hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for school programs. He once headed a fitness council for then-President George H.W. Bush, and was married to Maria Shriver from the Kennedy political dynasty.
Jenner lacks the roots Schwarzenegger had in politics, and his international celebrity far eclipsed her own. But her 3.5 million Twitter followers gives her a foothold to reach out directly to voters through social media, similar to the way Schwarzenegger could attract TV cameras from around the globe.
“Caitlyn Jenner has no real support,” LGBTQ activist Charlotte Clymer tweeted. “I don’t care about her candidacy. I do care about the ways in which her asinine views will be weaponized against trans people and the ways in which transphobia will go unchecked. This is purely a vanity campaign, and it’s incredibly selfish.”
Jenner won the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics. Jenner’s daughters with Kris Jenner — Kendall and Kylie Jenner — are part of the famous family on the long-running reality series Keeping Up With the Kardashians, alongside Kris Jenner’s children with the late attorney Robert Kardashian.