Los Angeles (AFP) – Olympic athlete, transgender reality TV star and now wannabe politician; Caitlyn Jenner kicked off her campaign to become California’s next governor on Thursday.
It was a low-key and scrappy launch for the Republican, who is among a crowded field looking to unseat incumbent Democrat Gavin Newsom.
Jenner, a wealthy socialite and step-parent to Kim Kardashian, chose the Venice area of Los Angeles, where the tarp-covered tents of hundreds of homeless people line the streets, and drug deals take place in plain sight.
“Today, we’re here about this homeless issue,” she told an assortment of journalists in the garden of an apartment building.
“We have to solve this issue because it’s a very, very complicated issue….And it’s not going to be easy.”
The solution, Jenner suggested, was not just to “throw money at it.”
“We need boots on the ground,” she said.
It was a phrase she repeated several times during the 30-minute stand-up, but not one that got fleshed out.
During an earlier walkabout, wearing skinny jeans and a white polo shirt, she was variously cheered, harangued and gawked at by bemused passers-by.
“I didn’t even know she was running for governor,” one twenty-something skater told reporters. Another man muttered darkly about there being a “dead body” a few streets away.
The 1976 Montreal Olympics gold medallist — as Bruce Jenner the decathlete — is trailing opponents in the September 14 vote, triggered after Newsom’s opponents collected enough signatures to try to recall him.
Newsom, a suave and well-manicured former mayor of San Francisco, has governed California since 2019, mostly riding high in the polls.
But his initial response to the Covid-19 pandemic — where some derided him as too quick to lock down, and others said he was too slow to reverse those lockdowns — finally gave opponents their in.
Voters will be asked two questions next month: should Newsom be ejected, and who should replace him. The second question is only relevant if the first one passes.
But in that case, whichever candidate garners the most votes — however small their percentage of the total — wins.
While there have been dozens of attempts in the past, the only successful recall in California’s gubernatorial history brought cigar-chomping action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger to power.
Team Newsom is campaigning solely on the first question, urging a “no” vote, and no big-name Democrats have put themselves forward for the second. (Newsom himself cannot be a candidate.)
Jenner is one of a large handful of Republicans, and Republican-leaning, contenders, in a field led by conservative talkshow host Larry Elder.
But despite her national profile, spanning cereal boxes in the 1970s to a role in “Keeping up with the Kardashians”, she has so far failed to sparkle, and began her campaign Thursday only after returning from a trip to Australia, where she said she had been fulfilling television commitments.
Jenner deflected questions over whether her dalliance with politics was related to a reality TV show or a book deal, insisting she was motivated by a desire to fix the state she has lived in for 48 years.
“If you don’t like what’s going on, not only in this state, but around the nation: stand up.
“We have to break the cycle of what I call that political club that runs our state, runs our nation.”
On the streets of Venice, where flies swarmed around piles of trash, the media pack meandered with Jenner on a tour that appeared to have no real destination.
It didn’t stop at the tent of 53-year-old Albert Martinez, who said he has lived rough in the town for more than 20 years.
He worries not about the recall, but about keeping his diabetes medicine cool enough in the hot sun, and whether he will be able to find a bathroom.
Not that she asked him as he sat in an old office chair outside his tent, but Jenner’s candidacy is irrelevant to Martinez.
“We’re worried they are going to throw us out,” he said.
Nor did she ask Colin McCabe, a 64-year-old Scot who has been in California since 1978 but became homeless a few years ago.
“If you’re interested in solving problems, you should be over there (asking the police) if they have a court order” for moving on the homeless, he said, gesturing to an area he said had recently been cleared.
But Jenner had already moved on.