N.Y. GOP Looks to Cox to Challenge Hillary

With the decision of Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro to end her bid for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate from New York in ’06, most political eyes among Empire State Republicans were on the candidate who exited the race six weeks ago in favor of Pirro and party unity.  And as GOPers prepare to put politics on hold in favor of the holidays, the growing question is: Will Ed Cox get back into the race for nomination against Hillary Clinton?

Cox — Manhattan lawyer, former Reagan Administration official and son-in-law of Richard Nixon — isn’t saying for now.  But at a December 12 meeting of Republican Party leaders from the state’s 62 counties, sources told me, as disappointment with Pirro’s floundering campaign was voiced, there was near-unanimous sentiment that stalwart conservative Cox would make a better candidate and should consider re-joiing the Senate race if Pirro called it quits.  (About two months earlier, the 58-year-old Cox had ended months of an exploratory campaign and deferred to Pirro, citing Republican Gov. George Pataki’s endorsement of the county prosecutor as a detriment to his fund-raising ability; Pirro, dogged by public stumbles in articulating national issues and criticism on the right of her liberal social stands, switched from the Senate race to a bid for state attorney general two days ago).

Pirro’s decision leaves former Yonkers Mayor and Cox’s fellow conservative John Spencer as the only serious Republican Senate prospect against Clinton, whose campaign kitty is brimming with $14 million.  As to whether Cox’s exit would make him appear weaker if he re-entered the race, one source close to him told me: “Not at all.  Had he stayed in, he would have been labeled a spoiler and blamed for Pirro’s leaving.  By suspending his own campaign and showing respect to Gov. Pataki, Cox was a symbol of party unity.  If he got back in, he would be praised for that, not criticized.”  

In appearances throughout the state at GOP forums and at a conservative luncheon in Washington, Princeton graduate Cox won high marks for his mastery of issues and unabashed embraced of right-of-center stands.  He particularly surprised some listeners on the right in Washington by embracing, without hesitation, a strong pro-life stand — unusual for a Republican in a state known for Pataki, Rudy Giuliani, and other pro-abortion GOPers.  Cox also won praise from Mike Long, chairman of the state’s Conservative Party, who signaled that the lawyer was the favorite for his party’s fall ballot line while he was running against Pirro.  

Cox is expected to make a decision sometime in January.