Caitlyn Jenner's Twitter page had already begun hinting at a political run.
(Screengrab via Twitter)
Politics

In historic move, Caitlyn Jenner announces run for governor of California

Though transgender politicians have been elected to office in recent years, notably Democrats Delaware State Sen. Sarah McBride in 2020 and Virginia Del. Danica Roem in 2017, Jenner is the most well-known transgender person in the country to seek an office of this magnitude on the national stage.

At a time when transgender rights have become the new culture war in American politics, Republican Olympian-turned-celebrity Caitlyn Jenner announced a historic campaign Friday to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom in the recall election.

“As Californians, we face a now-or-never opportunity to fundamentally fix our state before its too late,” Jenner, 71, wrote on Twitter. “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.”

The move comes as vocal segments of her party are pushing dozens of bills to curtail rights for transgender people across the nation.

The effort to recall Newsom is expected to qualify for the ballot soon, with an election in the fall. Other Republicans who are running include former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, former Rep. Doug Ose and businessman John Cox.

Axios first reported the development, followed up moments later with a post by Jenner on her Instagram account.

Though transgender politicians have been elected to office in recent years, notably Democrats Delaware State Sen. Sarah McBride in 2020 and Virginia Del. Danica Roem in 2017, Jenner is the most well-known transgender person in the country to seek an office of this magnitude on the national stage.

Jenner, according to Axios, has “assembled a team of prominent GOP operatives including Tony Fabrizio, the top pollster on Donald Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns, and Steven Cheung, a former Trump White House and campaign communications hand who worked on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s successful 2003 recall campaign.”

Her run is juxtaposed with dozens of efforts across the nation aimed at denying transgender rights, including barring transgender students from playing on girls sports teams and classifying hormone therapy as child abuse. These efforts are being advocated by former President Trump and Republican lawmakers across the country as part of a strategy some predict will help the GOP during next year’s midterm election.

“This is the largest, most widespread onslaught against trans rights and certainly specifically trans children, that we have ever seen,” said Charlotte Clymer, an LGBTQ activist who is critical of Jenner. “Given Caitlyn Jenner’s interest in running for governor of California, you’d expect her to speak out on these things. But she hasn’t really been out there.”

It’s a familiar quandary for Jenner, who has said she has received more flak for being Republican than for announcing that she identified as a trans woman in 2015. She describes herself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal, and publicly supported Trump in the 2016 election. (A recent Politico story found that she did not vote in that election, nor about two-thirds of others she was eligible to cast a ballot in since 2000.)

In 2018, after the president pushed anti-trans policies, Jenner said she made a mistake in backing him.

Newsom allies have sought to tie the recall effort to Trump and the insurrection, a strategy driven by Trump’s unpopularity in California. Though Trump lost the state by more than 29 percentage points, he won the support of more than 6 million Californians — voters who will be key if the effort to recall Newsom is successful. Every prominent Republican running to replace the sitting governor supported the former president to varying degrees.

Jenner previously toyed with running for office against Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 2018. But this is the first time she officially announced a run.

Jenner’s campaign invites inevitable comparisons to Schwarzenegger, the former body-building champion turned movie star, businessman and reality television host who was elected governor during the 2003 recall. That assessment ignores the differences between the two, who have been friends since the height of their athletic stardom in the 1970s.

Jenner was born as William Bruce Jenner in 1949 in Mount Kisco, N.Y., and attended school in New York and Connecticut before going to college in Iowa. After an injury, Jenner became a renowned decathlete and later moved to California, breaking records around the world and winning the gold medal at the 1976 Olympics.

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Jenner’s triumphs turned the athlete into a celebrity; the star was pictured on the Wheaties cereal box, appeared on television shows and in movies, and posed for the cover of Playgirl magazine. In 1991, Jenner married Kris Kardashian. The couple had two children, while she had four children from her prior marriage to prominent attorney Robert Kardashian.

The blended family has been part of the “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” reality television show on E! since 2007, reviving Jenner’s celebrity.

“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,” Jenner herself wrote on her campaign website. “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.”

Jenner formally announced she was exploring a run for governor weeks ago.

“I don’t know if this would be considered a game-changer. What Newsom’s team has to worry about is the recall now going into the realm of tabloid media,” Rob Stutzman, a veteran GOP strategist and longtime adviser to Schwarzenegger, told the LA Times back then. “When political campaigns start being executed in the People magazine realm ... it can create unpredictable dynamics.”

Stutzman said Jenner is not as serious a candidate as Schwarzenegger. “Arnold was the most famous person in the world aside from the pope. She’s famous but not that famous,” he said. “And Arnold already had some credibility in the public-policy space — he had sponsored a statewide ballot measure, had campaigned for candidates, been involved with the presidential physical fitness council.”

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Some Republican leaders and donors, however, believe that a celebrity may be their best chance of reaching statewide office, which they last won in 2006. Democrats in California have a 22-point voter registration edge over Republicans.

Jenner, a lifelong Republican, has described herself as an economic conservative and social liberal, and has also said she has been criticized for her GOP affiliation.

“I have gotten more flack for being a conservative Republican than I have for being trans,” she said during a 2016 appearance at the University of Pennsylvania.

The California Republican Party has a history of electing celebrities, notably former President and Gov. Ronald Reagan, former Palm Springs Mayor and U.S. Congressman Sonny Bono, former Carmel Mayor Clint Eastwood and, most recently, Schwarzenegger.

Updates:

7:14 AM, Apr. 23, 2021: This story includes reporting from Lookout Santa Cruz. It also includes background reporting by Christie D’Zurilla and Seemah Mehta of the Los Angeles Times when Jenner was first considering a run for governor.