Caitlyn Jenner, the former Olympic athlete and reality television star, has announced she will be challenging California governor Gavin Newsom in the impending gubernatorial recall election.
In a post on her website, Jenner, a longtime Republican who had signaled earlier this month that she was considering a run, proclaimed, “I’m in!”
The recall effort against Newsom, a Democrat, was spearheaded by Republicans in California who opposed the governor’s Covid-era business shutdowns, as well as his immigration and tax policies. It gained support in the winter while California was in the throes of its most deadly phase of the pandemic. Officials have until the end of April to verify recall petition signatures, and the earliest an election would be held is sometime in November.
Still, with recall proponents saying they have collected more than the 1.5m signatures needed to force an election, the prospect of a recall look all but inevitable.
Jenner, a transgender activist of Keeping Up With the Kardashians fame, would be the most prominent celebrity to enter the race, which has already attracted a range of both traditional politicians and eccentric figures.
The former group includes John Cox, a businessman who lost to Newsom by 24 points during the last gubernatorial election (the largest margin in a California governor’s race since the 1950s), Kevin Faulconer, the former mayor of San Diego and Doug Ose, a former US representative.
Porn actor and reality TV star Mary Carey and model Angelyne, who rose to prominence in the 1980s after she was featured in a series of iconic billboards around LA, are also running.
All these challengers will face a steep uphill battle. Although Newsom saw his approval ratings dip during the state’s most arduous phase of the pandemic, most California voters still support him. Recent polling from the Public Policy Institute of California found that 56% of likely voters oppose recalling the governor, and 5% are unsure. Only 40% would vote to remove the governor from office.
The recall campaign’s links with far-right groups, including Q-Anon, could also sink its chances of succeeding. Although recall proponents say they have broad support and have sought to distance themselves from far-right supporters following the 6 January attack on the US Capitol led by right-wing extremists, their anti-masking and anti-immigrant rhetoric has narrow appeal in California.
Jenner had reportedly consulted with several advisers who worked with Donald Trump, who remains overwhelmingly unpopular in California. After initially supporting Trump‘s presidential run, she changed her views over his administration’s attacks on transgender rights. Still, her limited experience and associations with the former president, limit her chances in the state.
“Caitlyn Jenner’s run feels like, at best a publicity stunt, at worst a way to raise funds from republican supporters,” said Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at the Hugh L Carey Institute for Government Reform who studies recall elections. “The biggest issue for Newsom is actually a Democratic candidate running.”
Democrats in California and Washington DC, however, have made clear – at least for now – that the party will stand behind Newsom.
In the heavily left-leaning state, where Democrats control the governor’s office and the legislature, Republicans have increasingly become a minority party. Jenner, in explaining her reasoning for running, said, “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.” She added that she saw herself as a “disruptor” of Democratic hegemony, announcing on her website that she had filed the initial paperwork to run.