California recall mystery: Where in the world is Caitlyn Jenner?

(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, file)

Now that the recall of Gavin Newsom has qualified for the ballot, aspiring challengers should be pouring on the media appearances and arguments for their leadership. The candidate with the highest cultural name recognition — and one hardly shy of the cameras — has suddenly disappeared from the debate, Politico notices. Caitlyn Jenner announced her candidacy last week, but “it’s been crickets” ever since:

The reality TV star and transgender activist hasn’t made a single TV appearance. She hasn’t held a press conference or social media event. No rollout of key Republican endorsements. She doesn’t have an issues page on her website, but offers ways to “donate” and buy “Caitlyn for California” merchandise.

“If she doesn’t come out and say something within the next several days, I think everyone moves on and says this is just some type of crank candidacy,” said veteran GOP consultant Rob Stutzman, who was a principal adviser to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger during his successful 2003 recall bid.

Jenner is “an outsider now auditioning to run the largest state government in the country,” Stutzman added. “You’ve got to give a speech, sit for interviews — and convince people that you can do it.”

A member of the Kardashian clan pulling a PR stunt? Get. Out. Politico’s Carla Marinucci points out that Jenner’s media strategy last week didn’t exactly scream serious either:

So far, Jenner has focused most of her efforts nationally rather than in California. She launched her bid while most California residents were still asleep, first confirming her run with Axios rather than a local media outlet. Fox News announced Thursday that Jenner will sit down with Sean Hannity for an interview that will air May 5 — nearly two weeks after she declared “I’m in” on the recall election.

Making the announcement on a national platform isn’t a big issue. Arnold Schwarzenegger jumped into the 2003 gubernatorial recall while on The Tonight Show. However, Schwarzenegger immediately went into campaign mode after that and focused on California media in his messaging.

The sudden fade from the limelight for Jenner is exactly the opposite from what one would expect — especially since some are warning that Jenner could contend in a large recall pool:

Even with a Republican-led effort to remove Newsom qualifying enough signatures to force a recall election – likely this fall – the sitting governor currently enjoys healthy approval ratings in the deep-blue Golden State, with 54% of Californians approving of his performance, compared to just 36% who do not.

But Jenner – the 1976 Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon – has already cleared one major political hurdle that trips up countless other campaigns, no matter how much money they spend: statewide name recognition.

That value, according to campaign consultants, ranges from immense to immeasurable.

“Name recognition saves a campaign millions of dollars,” said Ethan Zorfas, Senior Vice President at political consulting firm Axiom Strategies. “That starting point gives you this huge advantage.”

It sure does … at the starting point. After that, the candidate has to show up, though. It’s not enough to just post a bare-bones website that only asks for money, unless asking for money is all a potential candidate really wants out of the effort. It’s not as if Jenner can just count on Newsom imploding, especially now that the state’s COVID-19 situation is improving markedly. And it’s not like Jenner’s the only Republican interested either:

Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican, announced earlier this year that he would challenge Newsom, either in a recall campaign or when Newsom is up for reelection in 2022. Republicans John Cox, a businessman who was defeated by Newsom in the 2018 election, and former Northern California Rep. Doug Ose, who left office in 2005, are also in the running, as is reality television star and Olympic gold-medalist Caitlyn Jenner. Both are also Republicans.

Two familiar faces who were candidates in the 2003 recall election have also joined the race: former adult film actress Mary Carey and L.A. billboard icon Angelyne.

Others caught up in the swirl of rumors and speculation about potential candidates include Richard Grenell, who served as ambassador to Germany and acting director of national intelligence in the Trump administration.

Cox got blown out, but at least he campaigned hard against Newsom three years ago. Faulconer is also a legit and serious candidate, but he might want to wait for the regular election after seeing Newsom’s numbers bump back up. Richard Grenell might not have Jenner’s reality-TV recognition, but he’s a man who knows how to get media time and campaign hard on issues.

It’s not too late for Jenner to get to work, but it’s very curious that it’s taking this long for it to happen.