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The provocative GOP advertiser tries to turn Gavin Newsom’s rival, John Cox, into a “beast”

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The recall campaign against Governor Gavin Newsom is on the verge of its first surreal commercial twist, and it’s not surprising that Fred Davis – who once created an ad for the US Senate in California starring a demonic sheep – is involved.

Davis, one of the GOP’s most provocative political advertisers in the past two decades, is the man to call if you want to get voters to talk about an ad – and hopefully your campaign. Not everything people say will be positive, but at least they will talk.

Fred Davis, meet John Cox.

Davis’ latest creation includes the rebranding of Cox, one of the leading Republicans challenging Newsom. The $ 5 million nationwide campaign, which kicks off Tuesday, features a talking parrot mocking Newsom as a “handsome boy,” and a growling, seven foot, 1,000 pound bear who is his new client Cox licks what is called “a ball-smashing beast” here.

“You want something people go home and talk about,” Davis told me, “not just another political ad.”

This is not just another ad. You will talk about it. And that also applies to late-night comedians who have only received fresh content for weeks.

Politically, Davis faces a major challenge. He’s trying to reintroduce Cox and recruit the wealthy San Diego County businessman, whom Newsom overtook with 24 points in the 2018 governor’s race. That was a known result. Cox ran unsuccessfully for office in Illinois and California five times.

At the same time, Davis tries to portray Newsom as a distant elite, just another politician who is indifferent to the problems of the state. Given Newsom’s famous dinner at the French laundry at the height of the pandemic, this could be the easier task.

The 30-second ad, which will be broadcast on radio, digital and cable platforms from Tuesday next month, is a prelude to the topic of “Beauty and the Beast”. It’s a distilled version of a nearly three-minute mini-movie developed for social media that is very different from the ads that flood our screens during political season.

The longer ad opens with a narrator lamenting what has become of California, “our great state that has led the world for generations in quality of life, innovation, creativity and ingenuity.”

The reason for the state’s demise, says the narrator, when images of Newsom’s face appear on the screen, “is politics. We chose pretty overdone. We preferred beauty to the brain. ”Then the display flashes to a parrot chirping“ Pretty Boy ”.

Instead, the ad says, “We have to choose someone who can fix this place.”

According to the ad, that would be Cox. A self-made man who was “born with nothing, never knew his father” and built his real estate and other businesses into an empire reputedly worth more than $ 200 million. The ad describes him as someone you want to have a beer with.

“That’s our choice, California,” says the narrator. Do you want “beauty, a handsome boy or a bullet-destroying beast” who doesn’t invite you to his fancy French Laundry Dinners? The ad closes with the bear-licking Cox. (Davis said the shoot lasted all day and “John finally warmed up for the bear.”)

It’s about making the race a two-candidate race between Newsom and Cox, even though the field of challengers includes former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, former Sacramento MP Doug Ose, and reality TV Star and former Olympian includes gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner.

The existential question here for Cox: Do Californians want to vote for a self-proclaimed “ball-smashing beast” even if it’s “the nicest beast you have ever met”?

Davis said when Cox approached him he was looking for something else. That’s what you want when you call Davis. Especially during a recall that is likely to attract hundreds of candidates, most of whom are being run as a publicity stunt.

“I almost want to introduce John back to who he really is, a serious CPA, he’s a serious business guy,” said Davis. He’s done “really well, well enough that he can pay (for advertising campaigns) for $ 5 million per pop.”

At the same time, Davis said, “He had to do something big and different and fun, in addition to being serious.”

Cox is no stranger to political stunts.

In 2016, he spent more than $ 373,000 in an unsuccessful attempt to qualify an electoral measure to force politicians to wear their top donors’ corporate logos when they appear at official events – much like NASCAR’s logos – Drivers sport sponsors. He came up with the idea of ​​a Bill Maher comedy piece.

Davis, who created an ad for Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign comparing Barack Obama as a “celebrity” similar to Paris Hilton, is legendary in California political circles for an ad he made for the former HP’s 2010 Senate campaign -CEO Carly Fiorina has done.

The ad attempted to portray Fiorina’s main rival, Tom Campbell, as a Republican in name only, a fiscal conservative. It showed a glowing red-eyed wolf in sheep’s clothing, which was soon called “the demon sheep”.

The ad went viral, spawning its own Facebook followers, Twitter feeds, online mashups (on Pink Floyd’s “Sheep”) and even a T-shirt tagline. (“Yes, Ewe Can. Demon Sheep 2010.”) “It just exudes that particular kind of ridiculous hilarity that the internet loves,” wrote conservative commentator Mary Katharine Ham on right-wing WeeklyStandard.com. “This thing goes viral, but not necessarily in a way that will help Carly Fiorina’s campaign.”

Davis estimated the ad, which was shot for a total of $ 15,000, gave Fiorina’s $ 5 million campaign in visibility. He hopes the bear will do the same for Cox.

The bear – yes, the ad live – will be with Cox at Miller Regional Park in Sacramento on Tuesday at 10 a.m. while the contestant embarks on a California bus tour. First stop on Monday afternoon: the French Laundry in Yountville.

Davis promised, “This is just the beginning.”

Joe Garofoli is the leading political writer on the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: jgarofoli@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @joegarofoli

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