Ceding the role of minority leader to another delegate, Cox spent this year’s General Assembly session seemingly resigned to life as an ordinary legislator in a party that hadn’t won a statewide election since 2009.
But on Monday, Cox said he is mulling a run — spurred on, he said, by policies enacted by the newly Democratic legislature and by Gov. Ralph Northam’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the recent street protests in Richmond.
Northam (D) cannot seek reelection because Virginia bars governors from serving back-to-back terms.
“I have been hearing from people who want me to consider running for governor, something I would not have even thought about eight months ago,” Cox said in a written statement. “After the policies put in place by Democrats this year, the vacuum of leadership during this health and economic crisis, and the violence and destruction in our streets, it’s clear we need credible and steady leadership.”
Any formal announcement will have to wait until after this year’s elections, he said.
“Out of respect for candidates on the ballot this November,” he said, he would not “launch a gubernatorial campaign now.”
Cox noted that Republicans need to win back congressional seats and defeat Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
Cox did not mention President Trump, whose unpopularity in Virginia suburbs has accelerated the GOP’s slide.
An unusually large number of Democrats have expressed interest in running for governor, including former governor Terry McAuliffe, who left office in January 2018 and has raised $1.7 million for a still-undeclared candidacy.
Declared and potential Democrats running include Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Attorney General Mark R. Herring, Del. Jennifer D. Carroll Foy (Prince William), state Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan (Richmond) and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney — although the former McAuliffe Cabinet secretary is not expected to seek the nomination if the former governor enters the race.
The filing deadline, typically in the spring, has not been set.
So far, the field is smaller for Republicans. State Sen. Amanda F. Chase (Chesterfield) is the lone declared candidate. Pete Snyder, a Northern Virginia technology entrepreneur who unsuccessfully sought the 2013 GOP nomination for lieutenant governor, is considering a run. So is Charles “Bill” Carrico, a retired state trooper and former state senator from Grayson County, in the state’s far southwest.
Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.) said last week that he is exploring a run — potentially as an independent, bucking the party that in June rejected his reelection bid in favor of a “biblical conservative.” Riggleman, who has a libertarian streak, angered social conservatives last year by presiding over a same-sex wedding.
As speaker, Cox was the most powerful Republican in the state and used his perch to advance certain conservative causes, thwarting bills to tighten restrictions on guns, expand gay rights and lift restrictions on abortion. But he went along with Medicaid expansion in 2018 and has tried to play up kitchen-table fare such as tax cuts and education, promising “practical solutions for everyday issues.”
“I’ll be candid. I’m 62 years old. The easiest thing for me and Julie to do would be to spend the next 20 years going on walks at the park and visiting our boys at the beach, tweeting we told you so as Democrats drive up our taxes, chase investment and business out of our Commonwealth, adopt policies that lead to public employee strikes that hurt our kids, and reverse the policies that made Virginia one of the safest states in the nation,” Cox’s statement said, referring to his wife. “But that’s just not who we are. So, yes, I am seriously looking at a run for Governor.”