California’s Next Governor Interview

If John Cox wins the California governor’s race next month, he’ll immediately become one of the nation’s most prominent Republicans: the leader of the world’s fifth-largest economy who upset a nationally known Democrat in one of the bluest states in the country.

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But whatever you do, don’t ask him about Donald Trump.

“I don't have time nor the inclination to talk about what's going on in Washington,” the San Diego businessman said in a recent interview with Capital public Radio aboard his campaign bus. “I'm going to talk about fixing California, and let Washington fix itself.”

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Yet for all his reluctance to talk about the president ahead of the general election in a state that voted for Hillary Clinton by a two-to-one margin, Cox nevertheless sees a direct connection between Trump’s outsider, anti-establishment campaign and his own.

During the gubernatorial primary campaign, Cox’s slogan was “Clean out the barn!” — an echo of the president’s “Drain the swamp!” and a backhanded reference to the Sacramento political class he scorns.

In fact, he’s spent decades railing against corruption in politics — always from outside the political system, and long before Trump emerged as a presidential hopeful. He traces this underdog spirit back to his mother, whom he describes as “an ardent Democrat” and teachers union member — and his challenging childhood in Illinois.

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Cox certainly is the underdog in the California governor’s race. polls suggest he trails Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom by a wide margin — although he’s closed the gap to some extent since the June primary. And the Cook political Report rates the race as “solid Democrat.”

But as he nears the end of the most successful campaign he’s ever run — and he’s run a lot of unsuccessful campaigns, including for president — Cox believes his message finally fits this moment in American politics.