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Caitlyn Jenner officially announces challenge to Newsom in California recall

Olympic gold medalist and reality television star Caitlyn Jenner will run in a recall election aimed at deposing California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin Newsom'Aggressive individual' arrested after interaction with Newsom California grid operator calls on residents to conserve electricity amid heat wave California hydroelectric plant expected to shut down for the first time in 50 years MORE (D), her campaign announced Friday morning.

Jenner will become the biggest name to challenge Newsom in the recall election, a prominent Republican in a race that has so far been limited to former San Diego Mayor Kevin FaulconerKevin Faulconer'Aggressive individual' arrested after interaction with Newsom California recall to cost taxpayers 5 million California state workers union donating M to help Newsom fight recall MORE (R), businessman John Cox (R) and former Rep. Doug Ose (R).

In a statement on her new website, Jenner says she moved to California nearly half a century ago “because I knew that anyone, regardless of their background or station in life, could turn their dreams into reality.”

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“But for the past decade, we have seen the glimmer of the Golden State reduced by one-party rule that places politics over progress and special interests over people,” Jenner’s campaign site says. “Sacramento needs an honest leader with a clear vision.”

Jenner’s team will file paperwork with California’s secretary of state to begin raising money for the recall effort.

California’s unique recall system sets up a two-step process for voters once an election is scheduled later this year: First, they will decide whether to recall Newsom. Then, regardless of how they vote on the first question, they will be asked to choose between a roster of candidates who have qualified to run. 

The ballot is likely to be one of the most crowded in American history. Eighteen years ago, 135 candidates qualified to run in the recall of Gov. Gray Davis (D), including media magnate Arianna Huffington, actor Gary Coleman, porn magnate Larry Flynt — and the eventual winner, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Democrats backing Newsom have been confident so far that no world-renowned celebrity like Schwarzenegger has expressed an interest in running, and Jenner is unlikely to reach the stratospheric levels of popularity Schwarzenegger enjoyed. Schwarzenegger spent years cultivating a bipartisan image in California before his run, backing popular ballot measures that expanded after-school programs and appearing at town hall meetings with Democratic and Republican politicians alike. 

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Jenner has not laid similar foundations, though her personal wealth is likely to allow her to run advertising and boost her name identification.

Still, polls show supporters of ousting Newsom will face a tough slog.

Newsom is more popular than Davis was 18 years ago, and the scope of the coronavirus crisis he faces is vastly different from the energy crisis Davis faced then. Recent polls show a majority of voters oppose the recall, though Democratic insiders caution there are still months to go before they can consider Newsom safe.