Nevertheless, there are things about him I admire. Eight years ago, the GOP nominated Cox to run for attorney general, and few thought he had a chance.
Michigan hadn’t elected a Republican attorney general in half a century. Gary Peters, his Democratic opponent, was richer, better educated, and better known. Yet Cox, a hardscrabble Marine Corps veteran and the son of Irish immigrants, worked harder, campaigned smarter, and won one of the closest races in state history.
As attorney general, he went after deadbeat parents who didn’t pay child support. This was a subject he knew a lot about. He courageously admitted that he had fathered a child out of wedlock while in the Marines, and ended up raising his daughter on his own.
He went on to law school at the University of Michigan, and became a Wayne County prosecutor, rising to head of the homicide division. Over the years, I‘ve had many frank on-and-off the record talks with Cox. I’ve found him to be a street-smart guy with good political instincts and a compassionate side. He has a warm spot for Detroit, and understands the city better than almost any Republican.
He also is a relentless - some would say ruthless - campaigner. I originally thought he would win the Republican nomination for governor, partly because he’d work harder than anyone else. When Jennifer Granholm dared him to do something about the Asian carp crisis, Cox gratefully seized the issue and made it his own. But the Cox who ran for governor this year was not the guy I admired. He raised a lot of money, secured some big endorsements, but went negative almost from the start.
He launched a flurry of attack ads against Rick Snyder and, especially, the underfunded Pete Hoekstra, who at first seemed Cox’s main competition. They both yelled foul, and found a sympathetic press. His opponents, in turn, sought to link Cox, who is from the Wayne Country suburbs, to Kwame Kilpatrick.
They said he didn't do enough to prosecute Detroit’s corrupt mayor, though in fact a suit filed by Cox’s office was what finally forced him to resign. There was even an absurd story that Cox was at the legendary, probably mythical Manoogian Mansion party.
In the end, Cox finished a distant third. Last week I had lunch with the attorney general, who is still a bit shell-shocked over his defeat. He really expected to win.
Why hadn’t he stressed more his record of getting things done and his agenda for the future?
Because he believed that negative campaigning was what worked. He did put out a detailed plan for Michigan’s economy, and the media paid no attention. They did pay attention when he attacked the other candidates, but not in a good way.
Snyder actually did some negative campaigning, but more subtly, and managed to come across as a fresh-faced Mr. Clean.
I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Mike Cox, who is still in his forties. Virtually every successful politician, including Barack Obama, once ran a poor campaign, and lost.
I just hope that next time Mike Cox campaigns based more on what he has done and can do for us, rather than on what he can do to do the other guys in.