Caitlyn Jenner's back from Australia — and looking for a recall reboot

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Caitlyn Jenner, left, a Republican candidate for California governor, speaks during a news conference in the Venice Beach section of Los Angeles, Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021. | (Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP Photo)

08/12/2021 09:22 PM EDT

Updated 08/12/2021 09:30 PM EDT


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LOS ANGELES — Caitlyn Jenner is learning the hard way that running for governor of California may be the toughest reality show of all.

That was clear Thursday as the former Olympian and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” star hit the streets of Venice in a fresh white “Caitlyn for California” polo shirt, one of some four dozen items available on her campaign website. Just back from taping “Big Brother VIP” in Australia, the Republican candidate declared a reboot of her unorthodox effort to oust Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in the Sept. 14 recall election.

Standing near a two-lane swimming pool under palm trees at a private residence, Jenner expressed her concern and outrage on the issue of homelessness after going on a “walk and talk” with locals in the beachfront neighborhood that saw an extensive tent city emerge during the pandemic.

“I’m a results-based person … I live for results,” pronounced Jenner, noting her Olympic career fame. “Right now, with the homeless issue, it’s all about money and special interests, but it’s not about results.”

She did not go into policy details, though she said previously she would suspend restrictions on building affordable housing and rely on nonprofits and churches to reach out to people who are homeless.

Thursday's event was a Hollywood-tinged attempt at a restart for Jenner, who announced “I’m in!” on Twitter in April, then stumbled out of the block with misstatements about some of the basic workings of California government — and her own voting record. She also drew national attention on homelessness — in a dubious way — after she told Fox News' Sean Hannity that a private plane owner at her hangar was moving to Sedona, Ariz., after seeing too many homeless people.

Since then, she raised less than $1 million through July and her campaign was in debt, according to the most recent state filing. She has consistently finished behind other GOP candidates in major polls. And she has seemingly gotten no help so far from members of the famed Kardashian family, whose combined wealth is estimated at $2 billion.

Jenner three weeks ago had announced her big political comeback on Instagram — saying she would launch her statewide bus tour on Aug. 12. But there was no bus in sight Thursday as she held her second press conference since entering the race in April.

The event started nearly an hour late, partly because she had done several TV interviews several blocks away, a format she has relied heavily on this year. There were also blocks of a “walk and talk” through the streets.

And walk and talk she did — with entourage and paparazzi in tow, listening and posing for photos with three local advocates on homelessness, though none said Thursday they were formally endorsing her campaign for governor. Jenner did talk about the issue and asked questions of the activists, including, “Where do they get these dilapidated campers?”

But as TV cameras jostled for position, questions about what Jenner would do as governor on other key issues like vaccines were ignored or outright rejected as inappropriate. After Jenner was asked by POLITICO if she backed Newsom’s move this week to require all school employees to get vaccinated or submit a negative test each week, Jenner aide Sophia Hutchins told the candidate as she walked the Venice streets, “Don’t answer her. Don’t answer her.”

Hutchins then said, “This is about homelessness, not the vaccine.”

Later, Jenner at the press conference sidestepped questions about vaccines and Covid-19, saying she wanted to focus on the issue of the day. “But we’re in a pandemic!” Fox 11 reporter Elex Michaelson shouted.

Jenner repeatedly refused to answer questions about whether she has pursued any money-making ventures — reality TV shows, book deals — tied to her gubernatorial race this year. POLITICO reported last month that she hired a film crew to follow her.

As for her sojourn to Australia just as the campaign was heating up, Jenner said she was obligated to appear. Last weekend, she said on Twitter, “Great time abroad for fun and glad to be back in #California on the campaign trail!” as she retweeted a promotion for “Big Brother VIP.”

“I’ve never worked so hard for nothing in my life,” she said in response. “I had a prior commitment in Australia that was before this campaign even started. And unlike most politicians, I actually honor my contracts,’’ she said.

“I do have a job. I think that every candidate that is running in this recall has a job,” she said. “Yeah, I went down there. I stayed in touch with my campaign people. There was only one week when I was out of touch, because I was actually filming the show. And made sure I came back with five weeks to go.”

During her time in Australia, talk show host Larry Elder surged to the lead among GOP recall contenders and has quickly attracted the most Republican campaign money. That has allowed Elder to launch ads this month, along with Republican businessman John Cox and former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer — just as ballots are hitting mailboxes. Jenner has not yet run TV ads, though she continues to land national television interviews.

Of the GOP frontrunner, Jenner said Thursday, “Unlike Elder, I have no secrets,” she said, without getting into specifics. She later told Michaelson that “I know Larry, but he's very hard right. I think for California, what they're looking for is, they're looking for a person that is more center-right, and that is me.”

Newsom has lapped the entire candidate field on fundraising with some $50 million and continues to blanket the airwaves statewide. The governor is also launching his first official campaign tour on Friday, though he has made extensive use of his gubernatorial pulpit this summer.

While Jenner passed by the tents, the tarps and the homes of dozens of people along Hampton Street where she walked, some expressed anger at the circus-like atmosphere. Lydia Ponce, an activist with Save Venice, trailed along Jenner’s press route, yelling her frustration at the scene.

“This is bullsh–,” she said. “She needs to talk to the people providing the showers, and the hot meals … the money’s being spent, but you don’t want to hear that. This is all image.”

Albert Martinez, 53, who said he has lived on Venice streets for 21 years, sat outside his tent-and-tarp home in a rundown office chair, saying maybe Jenner could do something about the biggest and most personal issue he faces every day.

“They need more restrooms,” he said, noting that portable toilets on the streets are blocks away and unfit for human use.

Still, others offered support as she passed by. One blonde woman, exercising outdoors at Gold's Gym, gave Jenner the thumb’s up.

“Go get Gavim, or Gavin — or whatever his name is,” she yelled.

Jenner, for her part, insisted that her campaign is going full tilt from now on.

“The ballots go out, I think it’s the 16th,” Jenner said, referring to the mail deadline, though some large counties have sent them already. Now, she said, she’s back and ready for action, “so I’ve started this campaign right here.”

With plans to hit the U.S.-Mexico border this weekend, then head to Orange County and later “up north, all the way to the fires,” she said, “I’m going to be touring the state, meeting the great people who are fighting these great fights.”

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