Celebrity Candidates
FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2020, file photo, Caitlyn Jenner speaks at the 4th Women's March in Los Angeles. Former Olympian Jenner is running for governor of California.(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
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Celebrity politicians test voter interest in post-Trump era

36 Comments
By JILL COLVIN

From Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger to Al Franken and Donald Trump, there’s a rich history of celebrities trying out new careers in politics.

The list could soon grow.

In California, former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner is running for governor. In Texas, Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey has said he is considering a run for governor. In New York City, Andrew Yang, a businessman who gained fame during his quixotic 2020 presidential run, is a leading contender for the Democratic mayoral nomination.

Each has the type of name recognition that other political newcomers would envy. But as they consider running some of the nation's largest and most complicated governments, their lack of experience in public office could be a vulnerability. That's especially true after the tumult of the Trump era, when the reality television star-turned-president often spent more time raging about his media coverage than managing the federal bureaucracy.

“I do think it definitely makes it slightly harder," said Daniel Ketchell, who was chief of staff to Schwarzenegger, the bodybuilder-turned-Hollywood star who won a California recall election in 2003 and became a two-term governor. “I think people are looking at you and that narrative of: We just elected an outsider celebrity and it didn’t work out for the country, we didn’t get much done for the country, we all were stressed out all the time.”

Jenner, a gold medal-winning decathlete and transgender rights activists perhaps best known for being part of the Kardashian family, launched her campaign last week challenging Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in his likely recall race. Bolstered by her 3.5 million Twitter followers and nearly 11 million on Instagram, the Jenner campaign believes that name recognition — will make her a strong competitor in a race they see as a referendum on Newsom's leadership.

But Rob Stutzman, a GOP consultant in the state who advised Schwarzenegger’s winning recall campaign, said there are key differences between Jenner and Schwarzenegger, who was then arguably the biggest movie star in the world.

“There’s famous and then there’s Arnold Schwarzenegger famous,” he said, rejecting the idea that Trump had turned voters against celebrities.

"People will say they don’t like celebrity candidates until there’s a celebrity candidate they like,” he said. “A lot of Democrats hated Donald Trump, but they might be pretty enthralled with Matthew McConaughey. ... It’s still about winning and likability.”

Much else is also different this time around.

California has grown even more Democratic over the past 20 years, making it harder for a Republican, especially one who openly backed Trump, to gain traction.

Schwarzenegger, strategists note, was already well known in the state as a champion of after-school programs, and had a history of civic engagement, having served as chair of President George H.W. Bush's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. It also didn't hurt that he was married to Maria Shriver, a member of the Kennedy family dynasty.

Reagan was also well versed in politics before running a campaign of his own by virtue of leading the Screen Actors Guild.

While Jenner has advocated for transgender people since coming out in 2015 and experience in the business world, it is unclear where she stands on a slew of other policy questions. Indeed, her current website offers only a vague 68-word statement, along with a fundraising portal and online store selling stemless wine glasses and yard signs. (Her campaign says policy plans are coming soon.)

She has already faced backlash after mistakenly suggesting in a tweet that district attorneys in the state were appointed, not elected. (She later said she knew that was the case.)

“Also, do you know how a bill becomes a law?” quipped Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., offering a link to the famous “Schoolhouse Rock” animation. “Do you know what ‘veto’ means? Or ‘budget’?”

Celebrities-turned-politicians have long recognized the extra work they must do to counteract a dearth of governing experience. When Schwarzenegger ran, aides created what they called “Schwarzenegger University” to get up to speed on issues.

Franken, the “Saturday Night Live” star who later became a Democratic senator from Minnesota, largely avoided the national press during his first years in office as he tried to redefine himself as a serious lawmaker. Jesse Ventura, the professional wrestler who became Minnesota's governor, surrounded himself with experienced aides.

“No question that there was, I think, a preconceived notion that he might have some trouble engaging others to his administration," John Wodele, who served as Ventura’s spokesman in office. “However, the actions that he took right after the election to bring people into his administration with experience and knowledge and impeccable reputations quickly dispelled that.”

Wodele added: "I think coming out of the wrestling environment and celerity, a lot of people misjudged him in terms of his intellect. He was underestimated in terms of his ability to understand and reason."

In New York, Yang has ridden his losing presidential bid to a leading slot in the crowded mayoral race, which some of his rivals have sought to turn against him. In his first ad of the race, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who has faced calls to drop out after a former volunteer accused him of sexual misconduct, stressed his experience in an implicit slap at Yang. “He’s not a celebrity. He doesn’t govern by Tweet or TikTok," the Stringer ad began.

Yang's campaign manager, Chris Coffey, rejected the characterization of the candidate as a celebrity, comparing Yang instead with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic congresswoman from New York who has become a household name because of her progressive politics.

“There's a pretty big difference between starting a reality show and starting a political movement based on raising people out of poverty and giving people cash," Coffey said of Yang.

But star power, argued Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf, is what voters want.

“We live in a culture of gossip and entertainment. That’s how Trump became president. That’s one of the reasons why Yang is at the front of the pack," said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. He said that with New York having gone through so much during the pandemic, many voters may simply long for a smiling face and a cheerleader.

“The city, like other cities, is in the dumps,” Sheinkopf said. “With his celebrity, he's interesting."

© Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.


36 Comments

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So Caitlyn Jenner is the new Repub rising star.....

I wonder what the pro-Trump, bible-thumping Evangelicals will think of that...

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Jenner is an idiot and Yang is an embarrassment.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

here is a great policy here. as a trans person and an athlete, Jenner would know.

Still getting attacked by liberals anyway for this comment.

"This is a question of fairness. That's why I oppose biological boys who are trans competing in girls' sports in school," said Jenner, a Republican who is one of the most high-profile transgender Americans in public life. "It just isn't fair.

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

So Caitlyn Jenner is the new Repub rising star.....

He/she thinks so, lol

I wonder what the pro-Trump, bible-thumping Evangelicals will think of that...

As you can tell, no one is supporting Jenner

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

we won that election yesterday in Texas by 20 points that Dems claimed they would flip.

No celebrities were needed, just a Trump endorsement.

The anti-Trump candidate came in 9th or 10th.

-8 ( +0 / -8 )

we won that election yesterday in Texas

Republicans won an election in Texas? That's amazing!;)

6 ( +6 / -0 )

best Dem hope of 2021, according to liberal media. ummm Sanchez (D) didnt even make the top 2.

with the "D" standing for Disappointment.

https://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/551073-tomorrows-special-election-in-texas-is-the-democrats-best-house-hope-in-2021

The most likely scenario is a runoff between Wright and Sanchez. And while Wright would be the initial favorite, the more divisive the intra-GOP competition gets and the less resounding Wright’s first round performance, the better Sanchez would be positioned for a potential runoff victory, which is the Democratic Party’s most realistic hope to increase its narrow House majority in 2021.

-8 ( +0 / -8 )

Republicans won an election in Texas? That's amazing!;)

That’s like saying, it’s a shocker a Democrat won the State of California.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

my point is simply that the Trump backed candidate won and no Democrat even proceeded to the next round.

Republicans dont need "celebrity" candidates, Trump IS the celebrity and his endorsement still matters. I wonder if he will actually endorse Jenner here or not.

The "we hate Trump" Republicans endorsed the 9th place finisher in Texas.

-7 ( +0 / -7 )

Trump only won Texas by a very small margin for a big red state. About 600,000 votes.

Trump won the state but lost the country.

Sanchez, isn't he the guy whose wife was insulted by Trump when he called her ugly?

"During the past decade, TX-06 has transitioned from red to pink, with the GOP presidential candidate winning by 17 percentage points in 2012, 12 points in 2016 and 3 points in 2020. The TX-06 races followed a similar pattern, with the Republican margin of victory dropping from 19 points (2012), 25 points (2014) and 19 points (2016), to 8 points (2018) and 9 points(2020)."

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Trump only won Texas by a very small margin for a big red state. About 600,000 votes.

Uh-huh, lol

-9 ( +0 / -9 )

Republicans dont need "celebrity" candidates, Trump IS the celebrity and his endorsement still matters.

The "we hate Trump" Republicans endorsed the 9th place finisher in Texas.

And that is exactly why the GOP is toxic and needs to cheat a lot in order to win the next presidential elections.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I wonder what the pro-Trump, bible-thumping Evangelicals will think of that...

If Republicans in South Carolina could vote in a female Indian-American as governor and a black man as their US Senator (defeating Strom Thurmond’s son) anything is possible.

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

That’s like saying, it’s a shocker a Democrat won the State of California.

You got the joke. Congratulations?

5 ( +5 / -0 )

If Republicans in South Carolina could vote in a female Indian-American as governor and a black man as their US Senator (defeating Strom Thurmond’s son) anything is possible.

That is very true. After all, the "bible-thumping Evangelicals" had no qualms voting for the least religious presidential candidate in history, a known liar and philanderer who cheats on his wife with porn stars. Those people don't have actual values or principles to follow, so yeah, anything is possible.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Trump only won Texas by a very small margin for a big red state. About 600,000 votes.

Uh-huh, lol

Texas is getting closer. You can uh-huh, lol, smh or ROFL and counter with anecdotes, but the numbers don’t lie.

Are you saying this isn’t a concern for republicans?

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Celebrity politicians don't have a great track record. It's depressing that the focus isn't on the people they seek to represent.

I believe, or I hope, that US voters have sense and aren't blinded by the artificial light from these weekend politicians. Be they Republicans or Democrats.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

And that is exactly why the GOP is toxic and needs to cheat a lot in order to win the next presidential elections.

Say the people that whine about voter verification, interesting how so many minorities that have homes and apartments, wonder if they needed to verify who they are in order to qualify…..

Now that Florida and other Republican red states are ensuring that there is zero cheating, the left still complain…smh

Texas is getting closer. You can uh-huh, lol, smh or ROFL and counter with anecdotes,

The liberal numbers would tell them so, they also had the numbers that Trump was going to lose Florida. Lol

but the numbers don’t lie. 

Florida and many Red States they did. Remember Pelosi said, the Dems were going to overwhelmingly gain seats in the House and Senate that didn’t happen as well

Are you saying this isn’t a concern for republicans?

Texas, absolutely not.

-7 ( +2 / -9 )

Now that Florida and other Republican red states are ensuring that there is zero cheating, the left still complain…smh

At last the far right admit to cheating.

Texas, absolutely not.

Sounds like the much trumpeted never going to happen, on the possiblitly of 45 losing the election.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Now that Florida and other Republican red states are ensuring that there is zero cheating

The amount of cheating was already zero. The GOP is simply ensuring that people will have a harder time voting so that their toxic candidates can win. They have no policies and no agenda other than that.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Name recognition is important, but not everything.

Start on the school board, if you want to get into politics and don't have a law degree.

And a law degree would be nice - don't need to practice law, but having that sheepskin is important ... for a "law maker."

Call me crazy.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Texas is getting closer. You can uh-huh, lol, smh or ROFL and counter with anecdotes,

The liberal numbers would tell them so

The numbers are clear over the last few presidential elections - Texas is getting closer. Romney beat Obama by 1,200,000 votes in 2012, Trump beat Clinton by about 800,000 votes in 2016, Trump beat Biden by about 600,000 votes in 2020. Three elections is a pretty decent gauge of change. From 2012 to 2020 the percentage vote for the Republican candidate dropped from 57% to 52%.

This should be taken seriously.

This has nothing to do with liberal or conservative views. Perhaps you regard these numbers as being part of massive election fraud, but there is no proof of that.

I’d say strategists of either party should be fired if they reacted to these numbers with a Lol.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

And a law degree would be nice - don't need to practice law, but having that sheepskin is important ... for a "law maker."

Having an law degree allows people to understand the public policy driving the law.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

And we had an election yesterday where the Republican candidates got 60-65% of the vote and 3 of the top 4 spots.

not even close.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Now that Florida and other Republican red states are ensuring that there is zero cheating, the left still complain…smh

It’s adorable that you’re gullible enough to think this is the actual reason republicans are passing laws to suppress the vote when reality tells us there is no need for these laws beyond helping republicans win elections.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

And we had an election yesterday where the Republican candidates got 60-65% of the vote and 3 of the top 4 spots. 

In Texas?! No way. What a shocker!

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Republicans dont need "celebrity" candidates, Trump IS the celebrity and his endorsement still matters.

Remind me again of the number of Trump backed candidates that lost their elections. Not the cites I provided because I’m a rational adult engaged in critical discourse:

Voters rebuffed President Trump and nominated two Republicans he opposed to House seats from North Carolina and Kentucky on Tuesday.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-06-23/ny-ky-primaries-mail-in-ballots-deluge%3f_amp=true

Ms. Karofsky defeated incumbent Daniel Kelly, who President Trump had endorsed. Results were released almost a week after the April 7 election

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.wsj.com/amp/articles/biden-wins-democratic-presidential-primary-in-wisconsin-11586817751

But Trump's actual success record fell well short of a "complete victory." Overall, approximately 58 percent of the candidates he endorsed have won so far.

https://www.npr.org/2018/11/08/665309250/scorecard-trump-declares-great-victory-but-34-of-his-candidates-lost

1 ( +2 / -1 )

At last the far right admit to cheating.

I never said that, don’t put words in my mouth. I said, Republicans are ensuring that there is no cheating, no voter suppression, no irregularities, that way both sides can rest easier. That’s a good thing for the US.

Sounds like the much trumpeted never going to happen, on the possiblitly of 45 losing the election.

The GOP just gained 2 house seats in Texas. So no, not worried

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/texas-gains-house-seats-while-new-york-loses-in-census-count/ar-BB1g4YNo

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

All those Californians moving in will change the vote in time.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

New Yorkers thought the same about Florida, Bloomberg did as well. Lol

And Florida was extremely close in the election. LOL!

Clarification and putting words in someone else’s mouth are two totally different things

Agreed. You constantly do the latter. ROFL.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

bass4funk

All those Californians moving in will change the vote in time.

New Yorkers thought the same about Florida, Bloomberg did as well. Lol

Facts and figures show the number of voter in Texas is changing and the numbers voting for republicans become less.

Like Jimizo said

"The numbers are clear over the last few presidential elections - Texas is getting closer. Romney beat Obama by 1,200,000 votes in 2012, Trump beat Clinton by about 800,000 votes in 2016, Trump beat Biden by about 600,000 votes in 2020. Three elections are a pretty decent gauge of change. From 2012 to 2020 the percentage vote for the Republican candidate dropped from 57% to 52%."

This should be taken seriously.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Trump only won Florida by a small margin. In 2008 and 2012 Florida voted for Obama.

https://www.270towin.com/states/Florida

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Trump only won Florida by a small margin. In 2008 and 2012 Florida voted for Obama.

That’s not the point, the point is, liberals bought the idea it was going to turn blue, it didn’t and probably won’t

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

That’s not the point, the point is, liberals bought the idea it was going to turn blue

No they didn't, actually. Very few people (if any?) believed Texas would turn blue last year, but most credible analysts are simply pointing out to the rapidly shrinking vote difference between republican and democratic candidates, which is indicating Texas could eventually turn blue in the future. That is what people mean by Texas turning "pink".

3 ( +4 / -1 )

not even close.

Yeah, in Texas.

Tell that to Kelly Loeffler and that other Republican rook who lost his senate seat.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

actually they did. I posted it above.

this was about yesterday election, that the MOST LIKELY scenario is that the Dem Sanchez would come in 2nd. they then went further to tell us the scenario how the Dem could win the runoff.

Or has the meaning of most likely changed too?

Cant wait for this next round of elections that dont have the COVID-19 relaxations of the voting rules.

*The most likely scenario is a runoff between Wright and Sanchez.*

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

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