Travis Allen, John Cox Exchange Barbs as State GOP Convention Starts

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Assemblyman Travis Allen is vying for the California GOP endorsement with fellow Republican John Cox.  (Scott Shafer/KQED)

The two Republicans vying for their party's endorsement in the governor's race have focused on similar messages -- mainly attacking Democrats. But as their party convention got underway in San Diego Friday, they took some swipes at one another.

Orange County Assemblyman Travis Allen, who has been busy landing local party endorsements in recent weeks, immediately took aim at his opponent, businessman John Cox, in an interview with KQED News.

"We are here this weekend to get the endorsement of the California party," Allen said. "Really, the question is, will John Cox -- who's from Chicago, and didn't even vote for our president -- will he be able to buy off the Republican establishment with his Chicago money? We don't think he can do it -- but this weekend will tell."

Allen appeared to be referring to the fact that the national Republican party establishment appears to be coalescing around Cox. On Thursday, he announced the support of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) as well as two other California Republican congressmen, Devin Nunes and Ken Calvert.

Cox, in an interview with KQED, tried to focus his criticism on Democrat Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom -- the apparent front runner in the race -- but couldn't help taking a few swipes at Allen.

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"Listen, he's trailing badly, and he's punching up, you know, he's running a negative campaign," Cox said. "I am not going to respond to every little thing he says -- he's desperate, and I don't, you know, I understand. I don't think he's doing himself any favors. Frankly, I think most people I talk to are just repelled by the negative nature of the campaign he's running."

The 1,500 Republican delegates in San Diego this weekend for the party convention will vote Sunday morning on whether to endorse either Allen or Cox -- the winner will need 60 percent support. If one of them does get the nod, it could provide crucial financial and grassroots support in the final weeks before the June primary.

Because of California's top-two primary system, Republicans are not guaranteed a spot in the November runoff, and for months it seemed likely that Democrats would come in first and second.

Newsom has maintained a strong lead in polls, but in recent weeks Cox and Allen have surged ahead of Newsom's Democratic rival, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, in several surveys.