Capitol Alert

John Cox did lose 13 campaigns before running for governor, but he isn't a secret Democrat

John Cox attack ad highlights his political failures

An ad funded by wealthy backers of charter schools on behalf of Antonio Villaraigosa's campaign for California governor attacks Republican John Cox for his history of unsuccessful political campaigns and his connections to Democrats.
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An ad funded by wealthy backers of charter schools on behalf of Antonio Villaraigosa's campaign for California governor attacks Republican John Cox for his history of unsuccessful political campaigns and his connections to Democrats.

With former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa locked in a tight battle for second place in the governor's race heading into the June primary, an independent committee backing his candidacy is running an attack ad against close rival John Cox.

Cox, a Republican businessman from San Diego County, has a slight lead over Democrat Villaraigosa in the most recent public polls. Both trail frontrunner Gavin Newsom, and it is likely that only one of them will advance to the November runoff against the Democratic lieutenant governor.

PoliGRAPH

The ad, which depicts an online search of Cox's political record by a voter, aims to discourage Republican support for Cox by highlighting his history of losing campaigns and tying him to Democrats and liberal policies. If Cox splits the GOP electorate with his fellow Republican, Assemblyman Travis Allen, who is beloved by conservatives, it could allow Villaraigosa to slip into second place.

The independent committee, which is funded by billionaire charter school backers, has raised more than $17 million to help Villaraigosa and is spending record amounts for a gubernatorial election.

Script:

OK, who can beat the San Francisco guy for governor?

Not the conservative guy, Travis Allen.

What about this John Cox? Talks a big game, but what's he done?

A Chicago lawyer? Huh?

Thirteen losing campaigns. Seven in Illinois?

Cox lost campaigns as a Republican and as a Democrat.

Gave money to liberals.

Supported big tax increases.

No wonder Republicans say Cox is "unelectable in November."

Analysis:

It's true that Cox has repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to break into politics. But the ad gives an inflated sense that he has Democratic leanings.

Cox, who got his start as an attorney in Illinois, moved to California in 2011. He no longer practices law, though he still has an active license in Illinois.

He grew up in a Democratic family in Chicago and ran, at the age of 20, to be a delegate for the 1976 Democratic convention. It was the first in a string of races he would lose.

Cox has said he was drawn to the GOP in the 1980s by President Ronald Reagan. He has pursued half a dozen failed campaigns for office as a Republican, including for Congress in 2000, U.S. Senate in 2002 and 2004, Cook County Record of Deeds in 2004, Illinois Republican Party chairman in 2005 and U.S. president in 2008.

Since moving to California, he has also sponsored six initiatives, none of which qualified for the ballot. Five of them were for his pet proposal, which would expand the Legislature a hundred-fold by adding neighborhood-level representatives.

In 2016, Cox gave $5,000 to Mayday PAC, a political action committee that aims to elect candidates who want to overhaul federal laws on campaign spending. The group has supported many Democrats and some Republicans in congressional elections.

The donation was for a partnership between Cox and Mayday PAC on an initiative that would have required legislators to wear badges with the logos of their top 10 political donors. It did not qualify.

When the narrator of the ad says Cox "supported big tax increases," it flashes a quote from his 2006 book Politic$ Inc., in which Cox wrote, "I definitely favor a national sales tax." The sentence continues, "because it gets rid of the IRS once and for all." Cox wants to reduce or eliminate income taxes, which he believes rely too heavily on wealthy individuals, in favor of alternative sources of revenue.

The closing quote that he is "unelectable in November" wasn't said about this campaign. It refers to comments made by Illinois GOP officials in a 1999 Chicago Tribune article.

Though he has his detractors in the California Republican Party — he fell short of the endorsement at its convention earlier this month — Cox also has many high-profile supporters, including President Donald Trump.

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