Laura Cox to lead GOP in Michigan, a must-win state for Trump in 2020

By: - February 23, 2019 9:55 pm

Laura Cox (left) and Donald Trump (right) | Facebook and Flickr photos

Former state Rep. Laura Cox (R-Livonia) was elected Saturday to lead the Michigan Republican Party as it fights to keep President Donald Trump in office in 2020.

After her victory, Cox stressed that Michigan will be key to Trump’s victory after voters narrowly elected him over Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“It’s very important,” Cox said. “Michigan is on the radar. It is his pathway to win, and we want to make sure that we deliver that in the Michigan Republican Party.”

Before Trump, the last time Michigan voters chose a Republican for president was 1988, when Vice President George H.W. Bush won the right to succeed President Ronald Reagan. But polls now indicate waning support for Trump in the state.

Cox defeated GOP activist Gina Barr at the convention held Friday and Saturday at the Lansing Center.

Cox’s vice chair is Terry Bowman, a former UAW member and long-time Republican activist, who mounted an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2014 in the open 12th District seat. He lost to now-U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) and went on to serve as a statewide co-chair for Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Cox takes over from former party Chair Ron Weiser, who didn’t run for re-election and announced Saturday that he has prostate cancer. He also is chair of the University of Michigan board of regents.

During her campaign to lead the Michigan GOP, Cox secured the endorsement of Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale. She also earned support from a host of GOP leaders, including U.S. Reps. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland), John Moolenaar (R-Midland) and Tim Walberg (R-Tipton).

She also was endorsed by John James, a Farmington Hills businessman who was defeated by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) in 2018. There was considerable chatter on Saturday from Republicans that James would be the ideal candidate to take on U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (R-Bloomfield Twp.) in 2020.

John James

Cox, a former U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent, served as a state House representative from 2015 to 2019. Her husband, Mike Cox, was Michigan’s attorney general from 2003 to 2011.

Before campaigning to lead the party, she lost a state Senate bid to now-Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia) in November 2018.

The new GOP chair said that expanding the party’s digital presence and focusing on its messaging to younger voters will be essential in the 2020 presidential election.

Republicans maintained their control over the U.S. Senate in 2018, but the House is now led by Democrats. Republicans, however, say voters still resonate with conservative messages.

“There is far more ENERGY on the Right than there is on the Left,” Trump tweeted Saturday. “That’s why we just won the Senate and why we will win big in 2020. The Fake News just doesn’t want to report the facts. Border Security is a big factor. The under construction Wall will stop Gangs, Drugs and Crime!”

Securing a second term for Trump and other Republicans seeking public office is now the state party’s top priority. Sharing Trump’s accomplishments with voters will be key, Cox said.

“You know, the president has a great track record,” Cox said. “We’re really proud of all the things he’s accomplished and I think when we talk about that to voters, they’re gonna talk with their friends, their family and something’s gonna resonate with all the successes he’s had.

“We’re really excited; the president’s really excited,” she continued. “Michigan is his pathway to victory and we want to make sure we deliver here in Michigan.”

In a last-minute campaign email prior to her victory Saturday morning, Cox stressed a pro-life record and an endorsement from a political action committee for Right to Life of Michigan, an influential anti-abortion group.

Joseph Bellino

Cox reminded potential supporters in the email that she sponsored legislation in 2015, when she was a House member to ban what she called “dismemberment abortion.” The two-bill package didn’t make it out of a GOP-led House committee.

State Rep. Joseph Bellino (R-Monroe) said he has “a lot of respect for Laura” and that she’s a great choice.

“She knows what goes on and how we work … and sometimes in the past maybe people didn’t have as much knowledge,” Bellino said. “I like Laura. She’s a hard worker, a team player and she’ll do good.”

Now-Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, beat GOP former Attorney General Bill Schuette last year.

But Bellino said that without Weiser, the GOP might have “lost the [state] House and the Senate.” He added that although Republicans lost top statewide offices, “It could have been a lot worse.”

Ron Weiser

Weiser “was a team player and got lots of good things done,” Bellino said.

Former Gov. Rick Snyder was notably absent from the convention on Saturday. Former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley — now president of the Small Business Association of Michigan — also didn’t attend. But he complimented Weiser on Twitter, declaring that there has been “no bigger difference maker in the successes” of the Michigan GOP in the last 10 years.

“In bad years we out performed expectations and in good years we fully capitalized. Ronald Weiser’s steady leadership has made Michigan stronger and better,” Calley said.

State Rep. Julie Calley (R-Portland) — who is married to Calley — was present at the convention as a party delegate.

Top legislative Republican leaders also spoke at the convention, vowing to ensure Whitmer and other Democrats don’t undo Republican laws enacted during the past eight years of GOP-controlled state government.

State House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) said that he and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) “will remind this town what legislative authority looks like,” and said “we cannot allow the Democratic party to turn back the clock on the state of Michigan, and drive it back into the ground.”

Lee Chatfield (left) and Mike Shirkey (right)

To win in 2020, Shirkey said Republicans will also need to focus on emotion, rather than logical argument.

“I’ve never met a Republican that can’t win a logical argument with a Democrat. But logic doesn’t always result in votes,” Shirkey said.

“We need to turn our arguments into messages that pull at the heartstrings of people’s hearts,” he continued. “My colleagues and I are testing ourselves, making sure that everything we do is measured through the filter of, ‘How would a mom receive this message?’ Because that’s how we’re gonna coalesce and win the margins necessary to be victorious.”

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Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.