Neither Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, nor Republican candidates Caitlyn Jenner and Larry Elder will be on the stage next week for the first gubernatorial debate in California’s recall election set for Sept. 14.
The debate, which is scheduled for next Wednesday, Aug. 4, at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, is being co-hosted by FOX11, the FOX affiliate in Los Angeles.
Elder will be attending a fundraiser in Bakersfield, California, which his campaign said the conservative talk radio host had committed to before the debate date was set. Elder announced his candidacy two weeks ago, just ahead of the filing deadline to get on the ballot.
Jenner, who launched her campaign in April, also has a scheduling conflict. The 1976 Olympic gold medal winning decathlete turned transgender rights activist and nationally known TV personality is currently in Australia, on what her campaign described as a work obligation. But the campaign 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 told Fox News in an interview last week. But she defended her trip, saying, "I’m not like most politicians, I actually honor my contract."
Jenner said that she’d be back in California in time for the start of an Aug. 12 statewide bus tour campaign, which kicks off just a couple of days before ballots in the recall election get mailed out to Golden State voters.
Debate organizers said Republican candidates John Cox, the businessman and 2018 GOP gubernatorial nominee; former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer; former Rep. Doug Ose; and state lawmaker Kevin Kiley will take part in the debate. They said that Newsom was invited to participate but did not respond to the foundation's invitation.
The governor’s campaign pointed to a statement last month from Newsom political adviser Nathan Click, who highlighted that "instead of debating John Cox or Caitlyn Jenner's Trump-style climate or immigration ideas, Gov. Newsom will be doing the job that Californians elected him to do—leading our economic recovery and tackling our state's most pressing challenges—like homelessness, disparities in education, and our aging infrastructure."
The fundraiser isn’t the only reason Elder isn’t attending the debate. His campaign questioned the need for a showdown that didn’t include the embattled governor.
"It makes no sense to have a circular firing squad among GOP contenders, where the only one who benefits is Gavin Newsom," Elder campaign communications director Ying Ma said in a statement. "Larry would be happy to debate — Gavin Newsom."
And Jenner’s campaign argued in a statement to Fox News that "this recall is a referendum on the failed leadership of Gavin Newsom. It is imperative that he answers questions along with the rest of the candidates so Californians can compare and contrast our vision for the state versus Gavin’s disastrous record."
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.