Former Olympian and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner is considering running to be California’s next governor in the upcoming 2021 recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), with sources close to Jenner telling reporters she has been in talks with well-connected Republican consultants.
According to Axios, Jenner has been contemplating a run and has consulted with Caroline Wren, a longtime GOP fundraiser who previously worked at Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee for President Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. Wren also organized the rally that preceded the storming of the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6.
Wren first met Jenner through her work with the American Unity Fund, a conservative organization seeking to balance the expansion of LGBTQ rights with sufficient protections for “religious freedom” to ensure the exercise of those rights doesn’t infringe on the First Amendment rights of people who oppose same-sex marriage, homosexuality, or transgenderism.
Jenner has also been linked to Trump’s former campaign manager, Brad Parscale, who, according to the conservative publication National Review, is helping Jenner fill important campaign positions, in case she decides to run. During Trump’s 2016 bid, Parscale served as the digital director for the former president’s campaign, overseeing digital advertising and online fundraising.
After being promoted to campaign manager of the president’s re-election bid in 2018, Parscale continued to receive accolades for his digital strategy, particularly with respect to persuading Latino voters to support Trump, well into the early months of 2020. But he was later replaced in the summer and formally left the campaign in September following an apparent suicide attempt.
In addition to consulting with Wren and Parscale, Jenner has brought aboard some experienced GOP strategists, including Ryan Erwin, a former California GOP official who had roles in Mitt Romeny and Jeb Bush’s presidential campaigns, and Harmeet Dhillon, a Republican national committeewoman and San Francisco-based attorney, according to Politico. In a sign that she is serious about a potential bid, Jenner has also reportedly been in talks with Dave Rexrode, the executive director of the Republican Governors Association.
Jenner, a former gold medal-winning decathlete at the 1976 Olympic Games, has been vocal about her conservative political leanings, well before she came out as transgender. A prominent fundraiser and trans advocate, Jenner previously endorsed the presidential campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in 2016, despite Cruz’s opposition to LGBTQ rights.
After Cruz’s loss, Jenner supported former President Donald Trump and continued to do so until 2018, when she severed ties with him over his changing position on LGBTQ issues. Jenner also previously considered running against Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in 2018, but ultimately did not pursue a bid for political office.
As part of the recall election, California voters will be asked whether they wish to remove Newsom from office or allow him to stay, based on his immigration and tax policies and the lockdowns he imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which they say harmed small businesses. If Newsom is removed from office with a majority vote, the ballot will allow voters to select one of several candidates — potentially hundreds, once all political parties in the state are considered — to replace him.
Were she to run, Jenner would face off and vie for conservative voters with several other Republicans, including former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, John Cox, the GOP gubernatorial candidate from 2018, and former Congressman Doug Ose. Ric Grenell, the openly gay former Acting Director of National Intelligence and U.S. Ambassador to Germany known for his fervent defenses of Donald Trump’s record in office, is also weighing a run and emerged as the top candidate in a straw poll held last month, according to the California Globe, a right-leaning online news source.
Some Republicans are already drawing comparisons to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s successful run in the 2003 recall of then-Gov. Gray Davis (D), in that both Jenner and Schwarzenegger are celebrities with a high degree of name recognition. But the 2003 recall also featured other celebrities, including Huslter magazine publisher Larry Flynt, actor Gary Coleman, porn star Mary Carey, television writer and producer Bill Prady, comedian Leo Gallagher, and businesswoman and columnist Arianna Huffington, all of whom did not fare as well as Schwarzenegger.
Ann Cardinale, a trans woman who consults with LGBTQ candidates running as Republicans, told the Globe that Jenner’s entrance into the race would be “huge,” as it would also dispel myths that Republicans aren’t sufficiently LGBTQ-friendly.
“She can bring in a lot of votes from a lot of different demographics thanks to her life and background,” Cardinale said. “Plus, how incredible would it be that the first major elected trans person in US history would be a Republican? It would drive Democrats bonkers.
“I know she’s only looking now, and she’s not the strongest politically to go into the election, but just the fact that she is would bring a lot of people into the race, especially the California LGBT scene who would come out in support of her and against Newsom,” Cardinale added. “Even Republicans vehemently opposed to gender transition wouldn’t oppose to that.”
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