SACRAMENTO, Calif. (NewsNation Now) — Former reality star and Olympic gold medal-winning decathlete Caitlyn Jenner announced Friday she has filed paperwork to run for governor of California.
The 71-year-old longtime Republican would face off against Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in a likely recall election later this year.
“California has been my home for nearly 50 years. I came here because I knew that anyone, regardless of their background or station in life, could turn their dreams into reality,” the website said. “But for the past decade, we have seen the glimmer of the Golden State reduced by one-party rule that places politics over progress and special interests over people. Sacramento needs an honest leader with a clear vision.”
The transgender activist, who described herself as “economically conservative, socially progressive” in a People magazine interview last year, would stand out in a field that so far has failed to attract a nationally known contender. Her potential run would come nearly two decades after the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger, another Republican who used his Hollywood fame as a springboard to the state’s highest office in a 2003 recall election.
Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner, is an Olympic gold medal-winning decathlete. She’s widely known from reality shows including “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and the spin-off “I Am Cait.”
Jenner made headlines in recent years with her back-and-forth relationship with former President Donald Trump, who remains broadly unpopular in California outside his GOP base. Trump lost the heavily Democratic state to President Joe Biden in November by over 5 million votes.
Jenner supported Trump in 2016 but later criticized his administration’s reversal of a directive on transgender access to public school bathrooms. She also criticized Trump after he said transgender people would not be allowed to serve in the U.S. military.
The first-time candidate has not clarified her positions on critical issues facing the nation’s most populated state, from how she would manage the coronavirus pandemic to slowing a homelessness crisis.
The team around her includes Trump’s former campaign manager, Brad Parscale, who is helping Jenner assemble an inner circle; longtime Republican strategist Ryan Erwin, a veteran of California and presidential politics who would become the campaign’s general consultant; and GOP fundraiser Caroline Wren.
The recall effort targeting the current governor Newsom began in February 2020, led by a group called the California Patriot Coalition. Collections increased in the fall and winter as anger intensified about Newsom’s handling of the pandemic, but thousands of signatures remain unverified by election officials.
If the recall qualifies for the ballot, as expected, voters would be asked two questions: first, whether Newsom should be removed from office. The second would be a list of replacement candidates to choose from, if more than 50% of voters support removing Newsom from office.
The recall proposal must move through time-consuming steps along the way, including giving voters a 30-day window to withdraw their names, if they choose. Given the various legal hoops that must be cleared, it could take until September before an election date is scheduled, which strategists on both sides expect to be set for later this fall.
The recall effort has been largely fueled by criticism of Newsom’s handling of the pandemic. Republicans who have announced their intention to run include former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, former U.S. Rep. Doug Ose and businessman John Cox, who lost to Newsom in the 2018 governor’s race.
Recall organizers believe Newsom and leaders in the Democratic-run Legislature will do everything possible to delay the election, hoping that his fortunes turn as virus cases fall, vaccinations increase and schools and businesses reopen.
Newsom and his Democratic allies have cast the recall attempt as a politically-driven power grab. He tweeted last month that he won’t be distracted by a “partisan” recall attempt “but I will fight it.”
A poll released by Nexstar Media Group’s six California television stations along with Emerson College last month found Californians are split when it comes to Newsom’s performance and he has his work cut out for him if he is to hold onto his office for another term.
Newsom, a former lieutenant governor and San Francisco mayor, was elected governor in 2018 with almost 62% of the vote. He would be up for re-election in 2022.