Friday, July 16, 2004

Updated July 15, 9:30 pm, revised on July 16 at 11:45 am.

John Cox joins the Republican Senate Candidate beauty contest. Should Cong. Mark Kirk (10th Cong. Dist., Deerfield)?

Is the fifth time the charm for John Cox, the latest candidate to seek to immerse himself in the Republican U. S. Senate candidate debacle? This would be Cox's fifth try for elective office, the first three efforts in contested primaries failed and the fourth [in which he was handed the party nomination] is pending and very, very unlikely to succeed. But, read on.

Should and could Cong. Mark Kirk be seduced into accepting the Republican Senate candidacy? Read on.

John Cox announced on Thursday that he would accept the Republican U. S. Senate nomination from the Republican State Central Committee if offered and he will make himself available for the vetting process. John said, "I can step right in and get the job done, and we have to get going." He did not say, "I will run if nominated and I will serve if elected," but I imagine he wishes he had. The press might have been more kind to that comment than his joke about announcing his candidacy for Bears' Coach.

Well, John does have experience in running for office and the senate office, in particular, but as to winning, not so much. He came in fifth in a field of ten in his first electoral foray, the hotly contested Republican Primary in the 10th Cong. District in 2000. At that time he was a long time resident of Glenview (and a neighbor of 2004 Republican Senate Primary Candidate Andy McKenna, Jr.), a north shore suburb in the Tenth Cong. Dist.

The current Republican Congressman in that District, Mark Steven Kirk, won that primary with 31%, Shawn [whatever happened to her] Donnelly was second with 15% and Cox finished fifth with 10% of the vote. There was some not inconsiderable personal bitterness between Kirk and Cox during the race, and time does not seem to have healed that wound. With Kirk now somewhat of a power in the state Republican Party, that is not a plus for John’s senate effort.

As an aside, talking about Cong. Mark Kirk, he would be a strong candidate to run against Obama. Mark is articulate, has been very supportive of Bush on the War and would contest Obama's Paul Vallas base in the suburbs. Obviously, Mark Kirk would not want to give up a very safe seat for a bit of a long shot and the GOP base would not be pleased with his socially moderate views, i.e., pretty much pro-choice, pro gun control and pro gay rights. On the other side of the coin, he has shown the ability to adjust his views- and perhaps he could accommodate the differences downstate. Also, the Democratic candidate in the 10th, Lee Goodman, is not a strong one, and the Illinois GOP should be able to come up with a replacement in the 10th more easily than they can come up with a credible Senate candidate.

Back to John Cox, most of the field in the 10th was relatively moderate and Cox, it was thought, should have done better as the only credible, consistent social and economic conservative. Scott Phelps, the other conservative in the race, picked up 6% of the vote, and his only claim to fame was that of a promoter and participant in the area of abstinence education. For reasons perhaps related to what was characterized as a messy, nasty divorce, social conservative leaders did not warm up to Cox. Republicans, as we have seen with Jack Ryan and the Chicago Tribune, seem to obsess a bit on allegations, as opposed to findings of fact, conclusions of law and lawsuit verdicts. And, one would have thought that at least a few Republicans would have had the benefit of a legal training. Perhaps they did, but continue to think that “alleging it makes it so.” Indeed, this is one of the few beliefs that unites many moderate, i.e., liberal and socially conservative Republicans.

In any case, one such social conservative leader in the 10th, Kathleen Sullivan, rather than support Cox, chose to promote Phelps as the Cox alternative. And, Kathleen knew that adding Scott Phelps to the mix would mean a certain loss for both of those strong pro-life candidates, a cause which was dear to Kathleen-- indeed, she had run almost exclusively on that issue against 10th Cong. Dist. Congressman John Porter in primaries, once obtaining more than a third of the vote. Thus, Kathleen's hostility to John Cox would seem to have been pretty strong.

Undaunted by his showing in the 10th and his cool reception from social conservatives, Cox jumped into the 2002 Republican U. S. Senate Primary and came out of it third out of three candidates with 23% to Oberweis’ 31% and Jim Durkin’s 46%. And, of course, Durkin lost in the General Election to the incumbent senior Senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin, with Durkin getting a lot of the Newspaper Editorial Board support, but garnering only 37% of the vote. Of course, Durkin ran with virtually no financial support of his own or from others, with what we now see to be a shell of a State Republican Party infrastructure and the stench of the George Ryan history and scandal.

Always the optimist, Cox jumped into the 2004 Republican Senate Primary, but then jumped out, endorsing State Senator Rauschenberger when it was clear that the third time was not the charm.

This year, now living in the City of Chicago and re-married, John Cox, active in the Cook County GOP organization under then Cook County GOP chairman Maureen Murphy, was named President of the Cook County GOP organization and head of Operation Recall, which is intended to increase the number of Republican Party precinct captains in Cook County. Cox has survived the Regime Change in that County organization that replaced conservative Murphy and her allies [e.g., Family-Pac Executive Director Paul Caprio] with moderate Thompson guy Gary Skoien and his allies [including socially conservative Pat Sutarik], and Cox’s role heading up Operation Recall, if not as “President,” has continued.

John Cox will continue to be the Republican Candidate for Cook County Recorder of Deeds, pending the decision of the Party Central Committee on his Republican Senate nominee candidacy. Thus, he views this as a no lose situation. If he can somehow emerge as the Party’s senate candidate, he will be thrilled. If not, he has gotten some free publicity for his Recorder of Deeds run.

Cox has three daughters from his first marriage, makes his living from his law firm, financial asset management business and his real estate business. He is viewed as someone who can and will contribute a not insubstantial amount to his campaigns, but in no way is Cox the silver bullet who could or would self-finance. Cox is a bit of a political enigma in that he (1) has become more polished and more professional in his political demeanor over the last five years and (2) has articulated a clear, cogent economic and social conservative message in each campaign, but has never caught the support, let alone enthusiasm, of most conservative leaders in Illinois. Must be the messy divorce thing.

As I mentioned in the immediately preceding blog entry, Rich Miller reports in today's Capitolfax, “a top Republican source said last night that the party [sic] could put forth a ‘surprise’ candidate today. Stay tuned." I don’t think John is the surprise candidate Miller had in mind. Perhaps it was State Senator and Jim Edgar prodigy Kirk Dillard, who seems to be getting closer to seeking what most view as a suicide mission for almost any candidate who does not come to this race with either 100% state-wide name recognition (Ditka) or the ability to self-fund and present one self as an articulate/attractive conservative who can appeal to the center (Jack Ryan, pre-Tribune Demolition Derby). And, if it is, Kirk [let’s make a deal] Dillard should be a blog entry all of his own.

Jeff Berkowitz, host and producer of "Public Affairs," can be reached at