Republican John Cox formally opened his campaign for California governor Monday with a TV ad depicting his leading GOP rival as a political twin of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and promising to work for lower housing costs and new jobs.
The 30-second ad airing statewide marks the official kickoff of his second campaign for the state's top job, after Cox finished behind Newsom in their 2018 matchup.
“I’m a businessman, not a politician,” Cox says in the ad, looking directly into the camera. “It’s time for a fresh start.”
Cox will be a candidate in the proposed recall election that threatens to oust Newsom this year, if it qualifies for the ballot, or will run against Newsom when he is expected to seek a second term in 2022. Cox filed paperwork with the state last week to establish a committee to raise money.
Cox's main target in the ad is another Republican, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who entered the race last week.
The ad faults Faulconer for San Diego's decision to enter into a $127 million lease-to-own deal for office space that later turned out to be essentially unusable because of problems with asbestos, plumbing, elevators, fire alarms and other systems.
The ad pairs a description of San Diego's soured real estate deal with a reference to Newsom's decision during the coronavirus pandemic to dine out with friends and lobbyists at an opulent Napa Valley restaurant, after telling residents to stay home and avoid social gatherings.
"Had enough of this?" Cox asks, suggesting his two competitors share a common bond in bad judgment and incompetence.
A statement from Faulconer's campaign depicted Cox as a perennial candidate with a long string of losses behind him.
Starting in 2000, Cox ran for the U.S. House and twice for the U.S. Senate in Illinois, but fell short in crowded Republican primaries. He also ran a largely unnoticed campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.
The statement from Faulconer’s campaign did not address the San Diego real estate deal.
“John Cox needs a fresh start after ... repeatedly losing in landslide elections," Stephen Puetz, Faulconer's campaign manager, said in a statement. "Mayor Faulconer is a proven leader, taking on promise breakers and bringing reforms to clean up government.”
Cox's announcement came as recall organizers get closer to the 1.5 million petition signatures they need to qualify the proposal for the ballot. They have until mid-March to reach the threshold.
The recall field is just beginning to take shape, and more candidates are expected.
Cox's entry into the race highlights a risk for Republicans trying to oust Newsom. Multiple candidates could divide the vote, diminishing their chances to succeed Newsom if he ends up being recalled.
Cox won 38% of the vote in his 2018 campaign against Newsom. He highlighted the state's high cost of living, and blamed Sacramento's dominant Democrats for failing to keep those costs at bay.
Cox, a 65-year-old attorney, became a multimillionaire while moving through a series of professions — accountant, part-owner of a potato chip company, investment manager and real estate magnate — before turning to politics.
While Newsom has steered around reporters' questions about a possible recall election, he traveled Monday to Faulconer's home turf — San Diego — and appeared with Democratic officials at Petco Park, a coronavirus vaccination site.
The officials showered Newsom with praise and Nathan Fletcher, the chairman of the county board of supervisors, took what appeared to be a subtle jab at Faulconer, praising his Democratic successor, Todd Gloria.
“Mayor Gloria, it is truly wonderful to now have a mayor committed to doing the difficult work,” Fletcher said.
Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento contributed.