EXCLUSIVE: Republican gubernatorial candidate Caitlyn Jenner is taking heat over her trip to Australia with less than two months to go until California's recall election of embattled Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.
But the 1976 Olympic gold medal winning decathlete turned transgender rights activist and nationally known TV personality is defending her trip, saying in an exclusive interview with Fox News on Thursday that "I’m not like most politicians, I actually honor my contract."
Jenner spoke by telephone from Australia, during a visit that her campaign described as a work obligation. It wouldn’t confirm or deny that the candidate had traveled to Australia for a lucrative deal to appear in the reality TV program "Big Brother VIP."
"I have had this on the books, this show that I’m doing down here in Australia, for months and months," Jenner explained.
Jenner has faced criticism for traveling to Australia earlier this month while more than 30,000 Australians are unable to return home due to the country’s COVID lockdown restrictions – and for leaving California as the recall campaign reaches the stretch run.
But Jenner emphasized that "I’ve got more (campaign) work done down here than at home because I have no distractions. It’s actually been very good… since this pandemic, we’ve learned that you can work remotely and get a lot of things done."
And referring to her campaign team, she said that "everybody back in California continues to work."
Jenner emphasized that she’ll be back in California at least a week before ballots in the recall election get mailed out to Golden State voters in mid-August.
"I will be back, and our bus tour will start, and for the next month we will be talking to the people," Jenner said, spotlighting a statewide bus tour her campaign announced earlier this week.
Jenner says she’s launching her bus tour in the Los Angeles beach community of Venice to address the homelessness crisis and increase in gun violence "due to Gavin Newsom’s failed policies."
"Our first stop is going to be Venice Beach. We want to talk to law enforcement down there, community leaders, and Venice kind of the epicenter of the homeless crisis in Los Angeles," she said. "We’re going to discuss with them what’s going on down there and more importantly how we can fix it. We need to take back and regulate our public spaces. It is not working right now."
Giving a preview of the bus tour, she highlighted that "for the next month our bus is going to be going to every part of California, talking about the issues, talking to the people, and this is a grassroots effort to try and win this governorship. The people of California have to take California back. We’re losing it and losing it quickly and that’s what the bus tour is going to be about."
Asked whether a statewide ad blitz was in the works for the final weeks of the campaign, Jenner said, "We’re going to be doing so much digital, online, interviews in local communities with local TV stations."
And she defended her campaign, which is being advised by some top members of former President Trump’s 2020 reelection team.
"This is a very serious, well thought out, and we’re going to get our message out. We need to take California back. Right now Gavin Newsom is destroying this state and has been for a long time. He’s all about special interests," she charged.
The recall push was launched in June of last year over claims the governor mishandled the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic. The effort was fueled by the state's COVID restrictions on businesses and houses of worship, school shutdowns and even opposition to the state's high taxes. But the effort surged in the autumn after Newsom's dinner at an uber-exclusive restaurant, which – at best – skirted rules imposed by the governor to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
State election officials announced in April that the recall effort had garnered more than the 1.5 million valid signatures needed to make the ballot.
Republicans see the recall election as their best chance to topple a politician who has never lost an election during his years as San Francisco mayor, California lieutenant governor and now governor – and their first chance to win a statewide contest since the 2006 gubernatorial reelection victory by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was a moderate Republican. Three years earlier, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis became the second governor in U.S. history to be successfully recalled and was succeeded by Schwarzenegger, who won the recall election.
Voters will be asked two questions on the Newsom recall ballot -- first, whether the governor should be removed from office. If more than 50% support removing Newsom, the second question would be a list of candidates running to replace the governor.
Jenner reiterated to Fox News what she told reporters in Sacramento earlier this month at her first news conference since launching her campaign in April – that she’s "the front runner" among the 46 gubernatorial candidates who qualified for the recall ballot.
Asked why, she said, "Every place I go ... the enthusiasm level is through the roof. I feel like I’m the only one who has what it takes on question number two to be able to win. Name recognition obviously is very important. This next month is going to be very important as we go out on the bus and meet all the people."
But defeating Newsom won't be easy.
California is a lot bluer than it was in 2003. Newsom defeated Cox by nearly 25 points in the heavily Democratic state in the 2018 election to win the governorship. And most public polling conducted in California earlier this year indicated that if the recall election were held then, a majority would vote to keep Newsom in office.
But Jenner emphasized that "the recall is happening because of his horrible response to COVID."
And she charged that "he’s used COVID as a tool to keep everything shut down and take care of his special interests. … People aren’t going to forget that he’s been the most hypocritical, lying, all-in-it-for-special-interests governor that we’ve ever had in history, and the decline in California has only increased since he’s been governor."