For months during California’s primary election season, businessman John Cox limped along in his run for governor, hoping to finish second and take on Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom in the fall’s general election, which now matches the top two finishers in the primary.
In published polls, Cox trailed Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, barely leading fellow Republican Travis Allen, an Orange County assemblyman.
Then, in early May, President Trump without prior notice endorsed Cox, and the primary was essentially over. Republican supporters deserted Allen and gave Cox the 25 percent overall vote that placed him second and in the runoff, where many votes will be cast by mail this month.
Very recent polling shows Cox again gaining on his goal as the election nears, climbing to within 12 percentage points of Newsom, who has run almost as if he takes victory for granted.
It appears that if Cox eventually beats Newsom, once again he can thank Trump.
For the President has changed politics in America, including California. He’s altered perceptions of what is acceptable behavior and personal history for those who seek the highest offices. He has made irrelevant, ho-hum stuff of a history of big-bucks corporate bankruptcies and lawsuit settlements. He has made lying and crazy talk not backed by facts into standard political fare.
In some of those categories, the new reality can only help Cox. When the vice mayor of Dixon, a city of about 20,000 between San Francisco and Sacramento, last month openly called gay men “tinkerbells” and “fairies” and suffered no penalty, it revealed Trump’s coarse talk has taken hold in California, even while the President’s popularity here remains low.
So it was that Cox could compare a long wait at the Department of Motor Vehicles to life in a World War II Nazi concentration camp and gain ground despite trivializing the most brutal and sustained atrocity of the modern era.
As with Trump, Cox’s financial peccadillos also have not harmed him. Back in 2004, while still living in Illinois, his investment firm paid $16,000 in federal fines to settle charges of mishandling client funds. Cox also paid a $1.7 million settlement to investors to settle a lawsuit over his handling of a real estate deal.
Beside these things, Newsom’s admitted long-ago affair with his best friend’s wife looks petty. Trump, of course, has had bigger-money failures and bankruptcies, plus far more sexual peccadillos, but they don’t reduce his base voting support.
Any one of these things would likely have derailed a statewide candidate here as recently as the last campaign for governor. But not this time.
One reason, some experts say, is that the voting public no longer takes past personal and financial problems seriously. Voters also take a Democratic win for governor so much for granted they pay little attention to Republican candidates, whatever they do.
Meanwhile, Cox keeps coming up with clever, almost revolutionary, ideas. One was his notion of a 12,000-person “neighborhood-based” state Legislature, a failed initiative which does not join him on the ballot as he had hoped it would.
Another was his idea of having all state legislators wear stickers with the names of their top campaign donors while on the statehouse floor, a la NASCAR drivers. That was his way of saying state lawmaking is too much influenced by big money.
Cox has also claimed “a revolution is brewing here,” and tries to spur that along by promoting the Proposition 6 proposed repeal of last year’s gas tax increase.
If he and other Republicans win, it would no doubt be in part because Cox advocated so hard for that measure, having glommed onto it early in his primary run.
But even if he loses, and the results nevertheless show his gaffes and somewhat checkered background did him no harm, it would be partly because of Trump’s great influence and partly because so-called experts took him too lightly.
“Gaffes are troublesome if people are paying attention,” Bill Whalen, a fellow of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and onetime speechwriter for Republican ex-Gov. Pete Wilson, told a reporter. “But how many people are watching the California governor’s race right now? Not many.”
Email Thomas Elias at email@example.com. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net. California Focus, 1720 Oak Street, Santa Monica, California 90405