Second place is usually just first place in a long line of losers. And that will be true in California on Tuesday. But it will also be good enough for John Cox, a businessman who has lost 13 other elections, seven of which occurred in his home state of Illinois.
If Cox, a Republican candidate for governor of California, finishes second in the state’s June 5 primary, his next step to the highest office in Sacramento will be the November general election.
And if that happens, all the Democrats — there are 27 gubernatorial primary candidates on the California ballot — except one will be crushed. The Democrat running first, according to the latest polls, wants Cox, a Republican, to be his runner-up.
The way California’s so-called “jungle” or “blanket” primary is designed, the top two finishers —regardless of party — in June go on to the November election. With Democrats holding a nearly 2-1 (45 percent to 25 percent) advantage over Republicans in the state, the Dems had every reason to believe they would sweep the 2018 election.
But now Democrats are worried they will be the victim of a primary system they never wanted. The Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties all fought against the “blanket” or “jungle” system, but California voters prevailed in June 2010 when Proposition 14 was approved.
If Republicans coalesce behind a particular GOP candidate the minority party could be swept to a second-place finish, which could actually be considered a victory.
Believe it or not, Democratic California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the front-runner in the latest polls leading up to the June 5 election, wants to see that happen as much as President Trump hopes Cox will finish second on primary night.
The San Diego Tribune reported Newsom’s campaign believes beating a Republican in November would be an easier chore than defeating a fellow Democrat, so the team has been pushing the Cox candidacy.
The Newsom campaign has been portraying Cox as a reliable conservative, a candidate whom Republicans should love.
One of Newsom’s campaign ads is a 63-second cartoon that portrays Cox as “Trump’s protege” and a rock-solid conservative.
“It’s been absolutely strange,” Tim Rosales, Cox’s campaign manager, told the Tribune.
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat, is running in third place. He’s the candidate Newsom does not want to face in November.
Villaraigosa has also spent some time getting involved with voters who might be thinking of casting a ballot for Cox. Unlike Newsom, the former L.A. mayor is trying to persuade GOPers not to vote for Cox by portraying him as an unstable Republican, maybe even a secret Democrat.
The households of half-a-million conservative voters recently received a pamphlet from a pro-charter school political committee — Families and Teachers for Antonio Villaraigosa — that pushed two other Republican candidates for governor instead of Cox.
Families and Teachers for Antonio Villaraigosa also sent flyers to conservatives that branded Cox as a “Chicago liberal.”
It’s true Cox lost his first of 13 campaigns as a Democrat when he sought election as a delegate to the party’s 1976 election. After that, Cox ran, and lost, as a Republican candidate six times in Illinois.
After that, Cox moved to California, where he sponsored six ballot proposals. None of them even made it to the ballot.
None of that bothered Trump. He endorsed the Cox campaign via a video that featured daughter-in-law Lara Trump.
“John Cox is the one person in this race who will cut taxes, secure the border and fight crime,” Lara Trump said in the 48-second video. “As a successful businessman, John Cox can reform California’s government by cutting taxes, including the regressive state gas tax, and reduce state spending.”
Trump backed up the endorsement, as usual, with a tweet.
“California has a rare opportunity to turn things around and solve its high crime, high tax, problems – along with so many others. On June 5th., vote for GOP Gubernatorial Candidate JOHN COX, a really good and highly competent man. He’ll Make California Great Again!” Trump tweeted.
“We were thrilled to get the endorsement,” Rosales told GV Wire. “It was a big boost to the campaign. We have received a lot of positive feedback from Republicans and even some Democrats who like what the president is doing on the national front.”
Bob Shrum, the director of the University of Southern California’s Unruh Institute of Politics, said receiving Trump’s blessing should be huge for the Cox campaign.
“Cox ought to be talking about Trump all the time,” Shrum told the Mercury News. “It will hurt him in the general, but it’s his best hope of getting into the top two.”
A Public Policy Institute of California poll released May 23 showed Newsom in first place at 25 percent. Cox was in second at 19 percent, and Villaraigosa in third with 15 percent support among likely voters.
However, a USC/Los Angeles Times poll released in May showed the race for second place to be much tighter with Cox at 11 percent and Villaraigosa at 10 percent. Newsom led the pack of gubernatorial wannabes with 21 percent of support from likely voters.
Rosales in his GV Wire interview cautioned Newsom’s campaign to be careful of wishing for a Cox second-place finish.
But Garry South, a Democratic strategist, told the Mercury News that if a Republican finishes second in the California gubernatorial primary June 5, no matter if it is Cox or one of the other GOPers, “Gavin Newsom can take the next five months off and go to Hawaii.”