Former UFC champ B.J. Penn officially enters governor’s race
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After talking about it for the past several months, B.J. Penn has officially filed papers to run for governor.
Penn filed to run Wednesday as a Republican.
Penn hasn’t done any major interviews with Hawaii media yet, but this week he appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast — which averages 11 million listeners.
The former UFC champ found his political voice during the pandemic, railing against masking and vaccine restrictions. But now that most rules have been dropped, he appears to be broadening his campaign pitch.
“It’s the rising cost of living is what’s killing everybody right now, and we have no self-sustainability,” he said on the podcast.
Political consultant Trisha Kehaulani Watson says Penn has one big thing going for him: “He’s a household name. He’s long been a local celebrity. He has a lot of appeal to local people, the MMA community, the Native Hawaiian community.”
HNN political analyst Colin Moore added: “Really, what he’s bringing to the race is his charisma and populist appeal, and I think that will be attractive to a lot of voters who frankly are very frustrated with the establishment Democratic Party here.”
While Penn is a political novice, he’s also the most well-known GOP candidate on the ballot.
He’s also hoping to follow in the footsteps of former pro wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura, who became governor of Minnesota, and former bodybuilder, actor and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The Rogan interview showed that Penn has some homework to do.
“We got the highest rate, the highest state income tax,” said Penn.
When Rogan asked, “What is the state income tax in Hawaii?” Penn replied, “I don’t got the exact number right now but we talk about that often.”
“He might not know all the policy details,” said Moore, who added that it’s probably not a liability.
“He might not know that our top marginal income tax rate is 11%, but that’s not what people are really looking for him to deliver.”
Both Moore and Watson say Penn’s name recognition could be a powerful tool.
“Name ID alone I think is going to win him the Republican primary,” said Watson. “So I definitely think he’s going to November.”
Even if he wins the GOP nomination, he faces an uphill battle in a state that is predominantly Democratic.
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