Former Olympian, reality TV star, and conservative firebrand Caitlyn Jenner has announced she is running for governor against incumbent Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) in the impending recall election.
"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," said Jenner in an announcement email sent this morning. "I am a proven winner and the only outsider who can put an end to Gavin Newsom's disastrous time as governor."
The thrust of Jenner's initial pitch to voters was to paint Newsom and his response to the pandemic as out of touch, hypocritical, and punitive.
"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," said Jenner.
"This isn't the California we know. This is Gavin Newsom's California, where he orders us to stay home but goes out to dinner with his lobbyist friends," she added, referencing a scandal from late 2020, when Newsom dined indoors at the upscale French Laundry restaurant shortly before issuing a ban on on-site dining in most of the state.
That perceived hypocrisy provoked a surge of support for the governor's recall. Supporters have now gathered over 2 million signatures. Those signatures still have to be verified by state election officials, but the effort's organizers almost certainly have more than the 1.5 million needed to ensure the recall election goes ahead.
A gubernatorial recall ballot asks voters two questions: whether Newsom should be replaced and, if so, who should replace him. If more than 50 percent of voters say they want to replace Newsom, then the candidate who gets the most votes on the second question becomes governor.
Jenner is entering a crowded field of other Republican and conservative candidates. Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has declared he's running, as has former Republican gubernatorial candidate and businessman John Cox.
In 2018, Cox earned 38 percent of the vote in a two-way race against Newsom, then the state's lieutenant governor.
Both Cox and Faulconer have blasted Newsom for his response to the pandemic, with Faulconer making reopening the schools his signature issue.
The response from Newsom to the recall election has been to try to brand it as a partisan Republican exercise. The governor has also notably been lifting or announcing sunset dates for his many pandemic restrictions, perhaps as a means of appeasing voters tempted to support a recall effort.
Newsom's surprise decision to lift his regional stay-at-home order—which required Californians to stay in their homes unless engaged in a few essential activities—in late January was largely attributed to the order's unpopularity. Earlier this month, the governor said that pandemic restrictions on businesses would be lifted come June 15.
Jenner is entering the race with a lot of name recognition and celebrity star power. But removing a Democratic governor in such a blue state is an uphill battle for any Republican candidate.
An early April poll from the Public Policy Institute of California found only about 40 percent of voters support recalling Newsom, reports CalMatters.
State election officials are expected to announce whether the recall campaign has collected enough signatures to get on the ballot any day now. Once the recall election is certified, the California secretary of state will then set a date for the election within 60 to 80 days later.