Election 2020 Politics

2021 is probably less fertile terrain for a celebrity governor than 2003 was

The “you” here being Caitlyn Jenner, the one-time Olympian turned reality-television personality. Jenner is reportedly considering a run for governor of California, following the trail blazed by Arnold Schwarzenegger 18 years ago. The sitting governor, Gavin Newsom (D), is facing a potential recall, a statewide referendum that threatens to boot him from office as ignominiously as Gray Davis was tossed in 2003. Then, Schwarzenegger leveraged the truncated recall campaign period to woo the state into choosing him as its chief executive. If Arnie can do it and even be reelected, why can’t Jenner?

Well, for one thing, Gavin Newsom is no Gray Davis and 2021 is no 2003.

A March poll from PPIC found that more than half of the state supports Newsom keeping his job. In 2003, no PPIC poll found similar support for Davis; the closest he keep to holding his position was in July of that year, when the “recall” position only led “don’t recall” by 6 points. By September, shown below, “recall” had an 11-point edge.

Notice that while Republicans would like to see Newsom ousted, they feel less strongly about it than they did in September 2003, a few weeks before the recall vote. Then, only 1-in-10 Republicans wanted to keep Davis; now, 1-in-5 want to keep Newsom. And that’s in a state that was about a third Republican in 2003 and only a quarter Republican now.

What’s more, Gray Davis was a politician whose name may not have been derived from his personality but nonetheless reflected it. The Davis-Schwarzenegger contest featured a wide imbalance in personal charisma. A Newsom-Jenner one would not.

We have all learned in the last 2,123 days to never say never, so we won’t say that here. Schwarzenegger won, after all, and he wasn’t even the state’s first celebrity-turned-governor, a title held by Ronald Reagan. Jenner would likely be joined on the campaign trail by a bevy of high-profile celebrities, all of whom happen to be her daughters. Lots can happen in a truncated, lightning-fast recall contest.

A perhaps less uncertain politico-celebrity overlap is unfolding in New York, where Andrew Giuliani, son of former New York mayor (and potential future Dominion Voting Systems debtor) Rudolph W. Giuliani, is reportedly thinking about running for governor in 2022. The younger Giuliani’s political resume is short, centered almost entirely on his having worked for several years in the Trump White House. Beyond that, it’s not clear what his pitch to New Yorkers will be beyond that family name.

And even that is a question mark. Siena College polling from January showed that Rudy Giuliani’s favorability rating in the state is 24 points underwater, with more than half of New Yorkers viewing him unfavorably. That’s true even in New York City. Andrew Giuliani’s old boss Donald Trump doesn’t fare much better.

Giuliani’s first obstacle would be winning the Republican nomination, something that might benefit from a Trump link, given the former president’s popularity among Republicans in the state. His father, on the other hand, is only at about 50 percent favorability even from his own party.

Were he to win the party’s 2022 nomination, he might then face another famous name in New York politics, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D-N.Y.). The accusations of groping and harassment that have been leveled against Cuomo threaten his reelection bid, certainly — but even in March, after many of those accusations emerged, he was viewed more favorably than either Trump or Giuliani in the state.

Most New Yorkers, Siena College found, would prefer someone else be elected in the next gubernatorial contest. But there’s a big difference in the heavily blue state between “another Democrat” and “anyone else.” A contest between the Andrews — Messrs. Cuomo and Giuliani — is even now not likely to advantage the young Republican.

Never say never! Perhaps the time is right for Republicans to overthrow the Democratic leaders in two largely Democratic states. Perhaps the best Republicans to do so happen to bear names that have been omnipresent in the past few years, for widely diverging reasons.

Or, perhaps, running for office is not as simple as having a famous name and giving it a shot.

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