SACRAMENTO, Calif .– Even by California’s offbeat political standards, the spectacle of a 1,000-pound Kodiak bear, multimillionaire businessman and 71-year-old reality TV star battling for attention audience Tuesday was one of the books.
It was also a hint of the bizarre political tricks and greedy media arguments Republicans will pitch in front of California voters as they campaign in the governor’s recall election against Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The kickoff sounded last week when the California election official said supporters had secured the 1.5 million valid signatures to continue. Candidates are increasingly vying to keep all-important donors, attention and media gained relevant for the next few months until an election likely to take place in November.
On Tuesday alone, two Republican gubernatorial candidates – wealthy businessman John Cox and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner – did their best to ignite social media with new commercials and brash new pitches.
While Jenner’s 3-minute launch video garnered national attention, California politicians were obsessed with a live Kodiak bear named Tag, who made his political debut roaming in a public park in Sacramento behind Cox. Two years after being trampled on in a historic loss by Newsom, Cox unveiled his rebooted campaign – revamped with new employees, new ads and new ground.
Cox rebranded himself as “the beast” – to the point of changing his Twitter handle to @BeastJohnCox – and presented himself as the opposite of Newsom in a “Beauty and the Beast” storyline. Cox has repeatedly dismissed the governor as a “pretty boy” and said “beauty” has failed in his mission to rule.
“We’re going to need some big, beastly changes in this state,” Cox said, referring to his own campaign.
A few feet from the press, Cox’s massive surrogate caught reporters’ attention as he slaughtered dozens of Oreo cookies tossed in front of the candidate’s new campaign bus – wrapped in a massive portrait of Cox and the ‘bear, with the slogan: “Meet the beast.”
Cox also deposited $ 5 million of his own money into his campaign fund on Tuesday – funds that will pay for the statewide airing of a new ad carrying the “Beauty and the Beast” message.
The move sparked political discussions in California for two days after Jenner sucked oxygen from the Republican booster room in recent weeks. Political strategists, lobbyists and legislative assistants made bad jokes and expressed their astonishment on social media.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, known as PETA, tweeted their anger: “It is unfortunate and shameful that Tag the Kodiak has been exploited in this way … PETA urges anyone with an ounce of decency to keep the wild animals out of their publicity stunts. “
His strategy also baffled several GOP advisers scarred by the battle in California. “How often do you have the opportunity to officially announce that you are participating in a campaign?” GOP strategist Matt Shupe tweeted.
Still, backers celebrated the day’s events to spark interest in a state where politics is often mixed with show business. “They are fostering much needed political debate about the future of California,” said Tom Del Beccaro, president of RescueCalifornia.org, the recall-supporting group and former chairman of the California Republican Party.
Hours earlier, before dawn in California, Jenner sparked interest on the East Coast with a 3-minute launch video that billed itself as a “compassionate disruptor” to California politics. The soft-focus spot showed Jenner overlooking the state from a mountain top, reliving some of her biggest topical moments from the 1976 Olympics – and portraying her as an actress.
“The only thing Gavin Newsom is going to disrupt is our economy and the livelihoods of innocent Californians,” she offered in a post on her website. Jenner on Tuesday added a problems page that sounded Republican notes, ranging from vetoing any tax increases to eliminating regulations. She said she would reopen schools and businesses and blamed Gov. Gavin Newsom for putting “his special interest relationships and campaign money above our children,” an apparent reference to teachers’ unions. .
In front of Cox’s press conference, Newsom scheduled a decidedly more sober event on Tuesday – a press conference in which he accepted the endorsement of professional California firefighters. Newsom has repeatedly refused to respond directly to the Republican developments of the day, saying it is focusing on the distribution of vaccines in California.
“Now is not the time to waste hundreds of millions of dollars on a recall effort that is nothing more than a partisan takeover,” he said.
Administering the recall could cost election officials a cumulative $ 400 million if the pandemic restrictions persist, Sutter County Clerk Donna Johnston told the legislature on Tuesday. California has already extended the requirement that all active voters receive ballots in the mail, which adds postage, and coronavirus-related warrants such as personal protective equipment and the great outdoors could push up more the price.
“It will be up to each county supervisory board to decide how to fund this election. Some tough decisions may need to be made, ”said Johnston, noting that the Legislature could“ help cut costs for our counties ”. California could also use federal funds to cover costs, according to the legislative analyst’s office.
The secretary of state’s office declined to provide a cost estimate because the recall has yet to be officially certified. But Newsom and other Democrats have beset taxpayers as they seek to portray the recall as a costly distraction.
There will be no respite on Wednesday. Jenner is expected to sit down with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Wednesday in Malibu with supporters expected in the audience – but only Hannity will be asking the questions, a Fox News spokesperson said Monday evening.
Jeremy B. White contributed to this report.