Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
When Chris Cox's grandfather, Richard Nixon, won his last presidential race in 1972, he rolled up a record 184,000-vote margin in Suffolk, the largest of any county in the nation.
Cox, embroiled this year in a tough three-way GOP congressional primary in the first district, will find out Sept. 15 if any coattails survive after four decades and Nixon's inglorious exit after Watergate.
So far, Cox sees no negative. "It certainly helps with name recognition," Cox said. "And even Democrats I've met say how much they admire his foreign policy."
However, foe George Demos said lineage is all Cox has to offer. "Having a grandfather who was president may be impressive but it's no qualification to be a U.S. congressman," he said.
On paper, Cox, 31, a lawyer and Princeton grad, appears formidable, though he, like the others, has never run before. He was executive director for Sen. John McCain's New York presidential campaign. His father is state GOP chairman Edward Cox and early on he was encouraged to make the race by new Suffolk Republican chairman John Jay LaValle. He also has support from some tea party groups.
He's also raised $1.4 million, though $1 million of it is self-funded. His future father-in-law, supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis, is a powerful fundraiser and even former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger hosted an event for him. His secret weapon may be his mother, Patricia. Jim Teese, Cox's spokesman, said she has wowed voters at events, many of whom still recall her White House wedding.
But Cox, the last of the nouveau contenders, has had to play catchup since moving into the family's Westhampton compound in January. LaValle, who once labeled Cox foe millionaire Randy Altschuler "DOA" as a candidate because his former company Office Tigers outsourced jobs overseas, now holds his fire and has allowed an open primary. The Conservative Party went for Altschuler, forcing Cox to mount a long-shot write-in primary campaign. Just before those petitions were due, a half dozen Cox consultants - about three-quarters of the staff - quit.
"If Steve Levy had received the gubernatorial nomination, Chris Cox would have been in the driver's seat," said Desmond Ryan, executive director for the Association for a Better Long Island. "Now none of them has gained any traction . . . these candidates are moving at two speeds - slow and reverse."
Meanwhile Levy, aides say, is neutral in the race while elder Cox has stayed out.
Undeterred, Cox said he is happy Republicans leaders anointed no one, so grassroots voters can decide, which he says will give the GOP winner momentum to oust four-term Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton). "I think if we go out and win the primary, it sends a powerful message," he said.
Cox, who describes himself as anti-abortion and fiscally conservative, said the primary will turn on which contender GOP voters believe will create more jobs.
Cox says his consulting firm, OC Global, does just that by helping market U.S. products to global markets. But he could not estimate how many jobs his firm, which made about $500,000 a year, has helped to create.
Rob Ryan, Altschuler's spokesman, said the district "needs a congressman who has created jobs, built businesses, made a payroll . . . and pays property taxes . . . Chris Cox simply doesn't fit that bill." Demos said Cox is a "liberal country club Republican" who in the past year contributed $4,800 to both Florida Gov. Charles Crist and upstate Assemb. Dede Scozzafava, both banes to Conservatives.
But Cox presses forward and is now getting signatures to get an independent "Taxpayer" ballot line, which would keep him on the Nov. 2 ballot even if he loses the primary, and could further splinter GOP votes.
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, called the GOP disarray "enjoyable," adding Cox and his foes know nothing about the district. "East End voters are very independent," he said, "They want someone who knows the issues and what's important to people here."