Former Olympic athlete and transgender reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner announced on Friday that she has filed the initial paperwork to run for governor of California as a Republican. Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom is likely to face a recall election later this year.
"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," Jenner, 71, said in a statement. "I am a proven winner and the only outsider who can put an end to Gavin Newsom's disastrous time as governor."
She has assembled a team of veteran GOP operatives, including Ryan Erwin, who's worked on national and statewide campaigns for years, and Jenner's new campaign website is built by Nucleus, a company run by Brad Parscale, who was President Trump's campaign manager for part of 2020 and digital director in 2016.
California's secretary of state is currently reviewing signatures for the recall. About 1.5 million valid signatures are required to trigger a recall special election, and more than 2.1 million were submitted by proponents in March.
If the signatures are verified, the ballot will ask two questions: one that asks whether Newsom should be recalled and the other about who should replace him if the recall passes. A simple majority is needed to recall Newsom.
A poll from the Public Policy Institute of California in late March found that 56% of Californians would not vote to remove Newsom from office and 54% approved of the job he is doing. Democrats make up 46% of registered voters in the state and Republicans only slightly outnumber people registered as having no party preference.
In a statement, Newsom adviser Dan Newman, called the Republican recall effort a "ludicrous circus" and said this process will show "how much Californians appreciate Governor Newsom's competent compassionate experienced leadership during an unprecedented series of crises."
Jenner, of course, would not be the first celebrity candidate to run in a California recall election. Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected in 2003 after voters recalled former Governor Gray Davis. In 2003, the party registration gap between Democrats and Republicans was 13 points closer and more than 70% of voters disapproved of Davis during the recall year, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
But Jenner's associates say polling they've conducted concludes she begins the race with nearly statewide name recognition and that her focus on fiscal concerns, and her socially liberal views, should help attract support from traditional Republicans, independents and wealthy or moderate Democrats concerned about Newsom's leadership.
In her statement announcing that she has filed initial paperwork, Jenner said Newsom's COVID restrictions have "devastated" small businesses and caused an "entire generation of children" to lose a year of education.
"This is Gavin Newsom's California, where he orders us to stay home, but goes out to dinner with his lobbyist friends," Jenner said, referring to a dinner Newsom had at The French Laundry, an exclusive Napa Valley restaurant, while parts of the state were under lockdown. Recall proponents have said that dinner at The French Laundry increased interest and signatures for the recall effort.
Jenner's campaign also makes instant history: While a handful of transgender Americans serve in state legislatures or on city councils, none with an Olympic-sized profile have ever sought statewide office. But she is expected to downplay her personal history and emphasize her concern for Newsom's leadership and the state's fiscal condition.
She came out as a transgender woman in April 2015 and has since become a notable figure in the transgender community. Jenner was the 1976 men's Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon, competing as Bruce Jenner.
A longtime Republican, Jenner supported Mr. Trump in 2016, but she rescinded her support in 2018 over his anti-transgender policies. Her candidacy comes as state legislature bans on transgender girls from participating in women's sports have become a conservative litmus test.
Other declared Republican candidates for the recall include former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, former Representative Doug Ose and businessman John Cox. Richard Grennell, the former acting Director of National Intelligence under the Trump administration, has appeared as a special guest for recall events and is a potential candidate.
Randy Economy, a spokesman for the recall effort's supporters, said they are "very excited to see this happen."
"There are a lot of great people coming forward to run for governor. The campaign just entered a new phase," he said.
In the 2003 recall against Davis, 135 candidates filed paperwork to run.