The Sacramento Bee
What do a Redding businesswoman, a Roseville insurance broker, a tech entrepreneur-turned-pastor, and a porn star all have in common?
They all want to be the governor of California.
They’ll get a chance if the effort to recall Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom triggers a special election this year. California has a low bar to enter a recall election — a candidate can simply pay about $4,000 — and that presents a golden opportunity to would be-governors or fame-seeking social media influencers.
“I’m sure there are talent agencies with B-list clients who are absolutely looking at this is an opportunity to raise their profile,” said Republican political consultant Rob Stutzman, who worked under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Some of the self-proclaimed recall candidates so far are established California politicians, like former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer or former GOP Congressman Doug Ose.
Others are less traditional.
One big name among rumored candidates is Caitlyn Jenner, the Olympian-turned-reality-TV star who was previously married to Kardashian clan matriarch Kris Jenner. She’s now one of America’s most famous transgender women.
Axios first reported last week that she is speaking with Republican consultants about a possible run, and on Wednesday, Jenner endorsed the recall in a tweet, saying “Californians are fed up with the lack of leadership in Sacramento.”
Also on the recall ballot this year could be Mary Carey, the porn star who ran in the 2003 recall of Gov. Gray Davis and placed 10th among 135 candidates.
“Last time, I was young, dumb and full of fun,” Carey told ABC7 News this week. “And this time I’m more experienced and I am not going to take this position laying down. I am ready to be on top.”
‘Veritable clown car’
There’s still about two weeks left until California voters will know if the recall has enough signatures to trigger a special election, and even then it could be several more months before state officials go through the steps needed to actually schedule an election.
Democratic consultant Garry South says the Newsom recall election could mimic the chaos and drama of the Davis recall, when Republican Schwarzenegger attracted massive rallies all over California and ousted the Democrat.
“In the 2003 recall, the replacement candidates field was a veritable clown car of eccentrics and ego maniacs and exotics. The process and requirements for becoming a candidate in a gubernatorial recall election in the state really need to be tightened up considerably if the whole thing is to be anything more than just a sorry spectacle that makes California a laughing stock,” said South, who worked on Davis’ 1998 and 2002 campaigns.
Republican political consultant Anne Dunsmore, who works with the group Rescue California in support of the recall, said the campaign is likely to look like a circus as more candidates enter the race. That diversity could excite voters.
” Caitlyn Jenner, for example, she has 10 million followers” on one of her social media accounts, Dunsmore said. “She brings a universe of people that are not typically associated with Republicans or conservatives to the table.”
Other hopefuls include Jenny Rae Le Roux, a Redding businesswoman, Grover Coltharp, a Roseville insurance broker, and Sam Gallucci, a former tech entrepreneur who helped launch PeopleSoft, but now works as a pastor helping at-risk Californians and immigrants through his Oxnard ministry.
Galluci isn’t in it for the fame, he said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee. In fact, he was planning to run in 2022, but the recall presented a more urgent opportunity.
“I’m tired of seeing conservatives lose,” said Galluci, who has been donating to California Republicans for years. “It’s been nothing but losses. Lose, lose, lose, lose, lose.”
“In recall elections, you certainly get a lot of people that certainly want to get their name on the ballot, but look, the fact is that Californians have said ‘we need a change.’ Over 2 million of them … are saying enough is enough,” he added, referring to the number of signatures the recall campaign turned in to put the measure on the ballot. “And the reason I am running is because, yes, I absolutely believe I can win, because of who I am and what I’ve done.”
Low risk, big reward
Whether or not they make it to the Governor’s Office, running in a recall race gives candidates an opportunity to grab a piece of fame in a historic moment.
Josh Spivak, a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College and an expert on recall elections, said California’s low bar for candidates makes it an enticing opportunity to run.
To run for governor, a candidate must be a U.S. citizen, a registered voter, and can’t have any felonies involving the misuse of public money on their record. A recall candidate can pay a filing fee of about $4,000, or collect 7,000 signatures.
“All you need is $4,200 and a dream,” Spivak said. “Here’s a way to get fame, here’s a way to get your name out there. Plus, now, we have social media. That didn’t exist last time. So everybody who has a TikTok account maybe feels this is a good way to expand your name, expand your brand,” he said.
For instance, the banner across the top of Mary Carey’s OnlyFans account, where she posts explicit pictures and videos for paid subscribers, says “politically naughty” and “finally a politician you want to be screwed by!”
South, the Democrat, doubts most of the candidates are serious. A menagerie of oddball opponents could help aid Newsom’s narrative that the recall election shouldn’t be taken seriously, he added. That was Davis’ strategy in 2003, but once Schwarzenegger entered the race, all bets were off.
Stutzman, the Republican consultant, said candidates know the recall election will get significant media attention, especially in a year without any national elections.
He said a serious challenger to Newsom will likely be someone with fame and money who the electorate can take seriously.
“I think we’ve learned in the last 20 years that that fame is something that can be an asset in politics,” he said.
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