What’s the biggest nightmare for a candidate for high office? Opinions may vary on this question, but surely one of the worst afflictions hit California gubernatorial recall replacement candidate John Cox this week:
That’s right: In the middle of a candidate debate, Cox was accosted by someone bearing a court order to pay $100,000 he owed to an ad agency that did work on his last campaign in 2018.
A wealthy investment manager and former perennial candidate in Illinois, Cox jumped into the Newsom recall replacement race in California when it looked like it might be a short track to the governorship, much as it did to the entire Republican Party. Cox was reportedly encouraged to make the bid by legendary media consultant Fred Davis with this line of reasoning, according to CalMatters:
“It’s a long shot that Gavin will get booted, but if he gets the boot, this will be the best chance of winning you’ve ever had in your life,” he said, recounting his conversation with Cox in the early months of the campaign. “You could win with a small percentage of the vote. And that’s going to be a name recognition thing.”
Cox presumably had a head start on name recognition via his 2018 gubernatorial campaign, in which he was crushed by Newsom in the general election but did outpace other Republicans in the Top Two Primary to make the November ballot. The 38 percent of the vote Cox won against Newsom represented a potential winning coalition in a replacement contest largely boycotted by Democrats in which a plurality would suffice to vault someone to the governorship if the incumbent is ejected in a separate ballot question. The name-ID strategy was built on by Davis, who talked Cox into his first eye-catching 2021 gimmick, which involved the candidate touring the state with a rented 1,000-pound Kodiak bear named Tag. The bear was also featured in Cox’s ads to represent the “big beastly changes” he would make.
The gimmicks for Cox’s self-financed campaign didn’t end with Tag, as KGET reported last month:
On Thursday, Republican Gubernatorial candidate John Cox made a stop in Bakersfield as he continues his quest to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom in September’s recall election.
Unlike previous visits across the state, Cox did not bring a live bear with him, but he did bring a new prop — a huge 8-foot ball of trash. Cox said the trash symbolizes government waste and problems facing the state, issues he blames on Newsom.
As recently as June, Cox’s strategy seemed to be working, as he led polls of replacement candidates pretty handily and was able to play his career-long “outsider” role in contrast to Republican establishment favorite Kevin Faulconer. But then a real outsider with much better name recognition jumped into the race in July: nationally syndicated conservative-talk-show host Larry Elder, the self-described Sage From South Central. A late-July poll from the Los Angeles Times and UC Berkeley showed Elder with 18 percent, compared to 10 percent for both Cox and Faulconer. It has gotten much worse for Cox: An August poll from CBS/YouGov had Elder at 23 percent and Cox and Faulconer at 3 percent. At a recent Republican state convention, Cox had planned to make outsider hay by challenging what was expected to be an Establishment push to formally endorse Faulconer. Instead, no one was endorsed, but Cox himself finished a poor fifth in “nominations” for the endorsement, trailing Elder as well as Faulconer and two other candidates. All Cox accomplished was to annoy a lot of Republican office-holders and activists with his posturing.
Having run unsuccessfully back in Illinois for Congress in 2000, the U.S. Senate in 2002, Cook County recorder of deeds in 2004, and president of the United States (!) in 2008, and then twice for governor of California after relocating, John Cox is not an easily discouraged man. But he has very little time to climb back into the replacement race before it ends on September 14 (mail ballots have already gone out to all 22 million registered California voters). His next gimmick had better be good, and more positive than being reminded of unpaid debts in the middle of a debate.