SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The slow unfolding of Caitlyn Jenner’s campaign for California governor will continue with an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, as the Republican who calls herself a “compassionate disrupter” begins to sketch a rough outline of how she would manage the nation’s most populous state.
The 71-year-old Jenner — a reality TV personality and 1976 Olympics hero — announced her candidacy last month in a written statement on Twitter.
Jenner, who came out as a transgender woman in 2015, followed up Monday with a three-minute video posted on her website in which she criticizes career politicians and promises to restore California’s luster amid a pandemic and homeless crisis.
The written statements and video released so far, which include shots of her Olympic competition and gold medal, appear intended to introduce Jenner’s story to voters who might be only glancingly familiar with her, if at all.
What's been largely missing from the campaign so far has been Jenner herself.
The taped interview with Hannity set to air Wednesday will represent some of the first words voters will hear from Jenner since her campaign launch last month, beyond Twitter posts and materials posted on her website. Jenner told a TMZ reporter on Saturday that she opposes transgender girls competing in girls’ sports at school, calling it “a question of fairness.”
Her cautious steps into the campaign highlight the risks for a political newcomer who could be tripped up by a vast array of complex subjects, from immigration to tax policy to vaccine distribution.
Hannity’s show is likely to prove a welcoming stage for a critic of California’s Democratic-led government. It was a favored venue for former President Donald Trump.
“For a candidate like Caitlyn Jenner to win, it has to be like a layered cake. The bottom layer has to be Trump supporters,” said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution who was a speechwriter for former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.
“Where do you go to get Trump supporters? Simple: Sean Hannity,” Whalen said.
Jenner made headlines in recent years with her ties to Trump, who lost to Joe Biden in the state by over 5 million votes.
Jenner supported Trump in 2016 but later criticized his administration’s reversal of a directive on transgender access to public school bathrooms. She also split with Trump after he said transgender people would not be allowed to serve in the U.S. military.
Jenner would be a longshot to win in a recall, but her threat to other Republicans — as well as Newsom — is her ability to lure the media spotlight, he said.
“She is the shiny article in this recall right now,” Whalen added. “She can make news anytime she wants.”
The challenge she faces is getting past what Whalen called the “giggle factor” that comes with being a reality TV figure looking to run the largest state government in the country and the fifth largest economy in the world.
“Will there be policy behind the polish?” he asked. “She’s going to need to produce serious ideas.”
Jenner took a small first step to answering those questions Tuesday, saying on her website that she would establish a working group to review state regulations, including those that could block development of affordable housing, and promising to veto any tax increases.
With Jenner bringing celebrity sparkle to the race, it was no surprise Tuesday when Republican rival John Cox trotted out a Kodiak bear named Tag to relaunch his campaign in Sacramento.
The 65-year-old businessman who lost to Newsom in a 2018 landslide also released a video calling himself “the beast," and resorted to name-calling reminiscent of Trump, repeatedly labeling Newsom a “pretty boy" who lacks the substance to run state government.
Cox spent $5 million to air a 30-second version on television statewide, his campaign said, underscoring his need to raise his profile.
The stunt was aimed at drawing eyes to his campaign, but he promised to discuss “serious issues" — like bringing down the cost of housing, boosting the state's water resources and preventing special interests from influencing government.
Animal rights group PETA and state Sen. Ben Hueso, who authored a state law banning use of most animals in circuses, condemned his use of a bear as a campaign prop. The bear, which Cox said was born in captivity, is trained and has appeared in movies and commercials.
Jenner, meanwhile, has held no campaign events since announcing her candidacy nearly two weeks ago. Her video cast her as a champion of those forgotten by Sacramento.
“I’m running to be governor for all Californians, to reclaim our true identity, to bring back the gold to the Golden State," Jenner said in the ad.
Kim Nalder, a professor of political science at California State University, Sacramento, noted both candidates never mentioned their Republican political affiliation in their ads, which could be smart given that registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in California by nearly 2-to-1.
Newsom campaigned with firefighters Tuesday while accepting union endorsements. “This is a big day as we really kick off our efforts to defeat this recall," the governor said.
Newsom wasn't expected to face an election until 2022 but critics of his coronavirus response and liberal policies succeeded in collecting more than the 1.5 million signatures needed for a recall election.
There are still several steps remaining before the election is certified, but the signature collection and verification were the biggest hurdles. The election will likely be scheduled for the fall.
Other Republicans in the race include former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and former Congressman Doug Ose.
Cox received less than 40% of the vote against Newsom in 2018 and has never won elected office despite a string of attempts. He said that his prior run gives him a statewide base to expand this time around. Faulconer has not run a statewide campaign and Ose briefly ran for governor in 2018 before dropping out.
Cox twice declined to answer whether he'd welcome Trump to campaign for him. Trump endorsed Cox in 2018 but is broadly unpopular in the state, outside his GOP base.