By JONATHAN J. COOPER, Associated Press
(AP) — President Donald Trump backed San Diego businessman John Cox for California governor on Friday in an announcement that could provide a boost for Republicans hoping to have a candidate survive next month's primary.
"California finally deserves a great Governor, one who understands borders, crime and lowering taxes," Trump wrote on Twitter. "John Cox is the man - he'll be the best Governor you've ever had. I fully endorse John Cox for Governor and look forward to working with him to Make California Great Again!"
California finally deserves a great Governor, one who understands borders, crime and lowering taxes. John Cox is the man - he’ll be the best Governor you’ve ever had. I fully endorse John Cox for Governor and look forward to working with him to Make California Great Again!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2018
Cox is vying with Assemblyman Travis Allen, a conservative firebrand, to consolidate Republican support ahead of the June 5 primary to secure one of two slots in the November general election. Under California law all candidates will appear on the same ballot next month, and the top two finishers will advance to November regardless of party.
Cox is backed by much of California's GOP establishment, including U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, who is close with Trump.
"I am honored and deeply grateful to my President and I am looking forward to working with him to make California great again," Cox said in a statement. "Like the President, I'm businessman who knows how to get things done."
Trump's decision is a blow to Allen, a Huntington Beach Republican who has been aggressively courting Trump supporters and often points out that he's the only candidate for governor who voted for the president. Cox voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson — a decision he now says he regrets.
Following the announcement, he declared on Twitter that Californian's deserve a governor who actually voted for Trump.
If conservative voters split between Cox and Allen two Democrats could advance to November — an outcome Republicans fear would hurt them in down-ballot races for Congress and the Legislature, potentially compromising GOP control of the House.
The Trump endorsement distinguishes Cox in the battle for GOP voters in the primary but may be more of a liability if he makes it to the general election. Polls show Trump remains well-liked by Republican voters but is deeply unpopular with a majority of Californians.
Still, California is an overwhelmingly Democratic state and Republicans are a longshot in statewide races.
"This is the best news he could've gotten for his ambitions in June," said Thad Kousser, chair of the political science department at University of California, San Diego. "It's an endorsement that may doom him in November, but he's probably already doomed."