Celebrity politicians test voter interest in post-Trump era

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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)

WASHINGTON – 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.