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As California’s gubernatorial recall heats up, a GOP challenger brought a 1,000-pound bear on the trail

John Cox, a Republican California gubernatorial candidate, brought a bear to a campaign event in Sacramento on May 4. (Video: John Cox for Governor 2021)
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Republican businessman John Cox was surrounded by reporters in a Sacramento park on Tuesday as he pitched Californians on voting for him in a recall election that could unseat Gov. Gavin Newsom (D).

Many observers, though, were not staring at Cox as much as the 1,000-pound Kodiak bear lounging behind him, chewing pieces of chicken and cookies his trainer threw his way.

That was exactly what Cox was hoping for as he kicked off his “Meet the Beast” campaign tour.

“We certainly expected that the bear would get some attention,” Cox, 65, told The Washington Post late Tuesday. “It worked.”

The Kodiak bear, whose name is Tag and who has starred in dozens of movies and commercials, was just one of the unlikely characters who promise to confront voters in a state infamous for chaotic recall races. So far, the long list of candidates lining up to compete for Newsom’s seat includes Caitlyn Jenner, the Olympic gold medalist who is among the most prominent transgender women in the country; former adult-film star Mary Carey; singer Angelyne; and Sam Gallucci, a former tech entrepreneur who is now a pastor.

A recall of California Gov. Gavin Newsom takes a big step forward

Last month, the California secretary of state’s office certified 1.62 million valid signatures, about 125,000 more than needed to set up a vote on whether Newsom should be ousted from his seat a year early, The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson reported. The race would mark the state’s second recall in history; the first, in 2003, attracted more than 130 candidates, including Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who won the governor’s seat.

For the first time since 2003, voters in California have the chance to recall a governor. Democratic leaders see it as a Republican coup. (Video: James Cornsilk/The Washington Post)

Efforts to remove Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco and lieutenant governor, began during the Trump administration, when opponents criticized his immigration policy. But the efforts gained momentum during the coronavirus pandemic as critics hammered Newsom for his handling of the virus and for defying his own restrictions to dine at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Cox, a San Diego businessman, summoned reporters Tuesday to Miller Regional Park in Sacramento for his unusual campaign launch. Cox, who lost handily to Newsom in 2018, stood behind a red-and-green bus reading “Meet the Beast,” along with a picture of a Kodiak bear.

Feet away from him, separated by security strings, sat Tag, the bear he rented for a few thousand dollars, Cox said. “California can be a beautiful state once again, but that means we need to recall our pretty-boy governor Gavin Newsom,” Cox told reporters.

Tag, meanwhile, jumped up and down and, at times, walked around searching for treats before posing for photos with the candidate.

Also on Tuesday, Jenner (R) released a nearly three-minute campaign video on Twitter where she describes herself as the only candidate fit to end “Gavin Newsom’s disastrous time as governor.”

That same day, Newsom attended an event with the union representing California’s firefighters, which vowed to help him keep his post. Newsom declined to respond during the event to comments made by Jenner and Cox.

Although Cox said the bear garnered the attention he was expecting, he said the animal signified more than a stunt to attract voters.

“The bear was just the way of getting attention to the serious issues,” said Cox, who has also launched an ad titled “Beauty or the Beast?” starring Tag.

Some animal rights activists, though, were not pleased by the stunt.

“Gone should be the days when wild animals were treated as toys or props, so it’s unfortunate and shameful that Tag the Kodiak bear has been exploited in this way,” Debbie Metzler, an associate director with PETA, said in a statement.

Cox defended his use of the bear, which he said was only rented for a couple of hours.

“I understand that there are animal rights groups that were offended that we used a live animal,” Cox told The Post. “This is not a wild animal. This is an animal that has been raised in captivity.”

Tag is scheduled to make another appearance on the last stop of the tour, a representative with Cox’s advertisement campaign told The Post in an email.