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Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox and GOP hopefuls vying for other seats urged Sonoma County voters Sunday to support his call to “clean out the barn.”

The Donald Trump-backed San Diego businessman, who’s challenging Gavin Newsom in the Nov. 6 election, appealed to “beleaguered Californians,” who he said are grappling with high housing costs and gas prices, water shortages and out-of-control wildfires.

“We are all so, so lucky to live here,” Cox told about 165 attendees at a sold-out Sonoma County Republican Party candidate breakfast in Rohnert Park. “If we just had the political leadership. That’s what we need to change.”

Five other Republican candidates spoke during the breakfast, including Mark Meuser, who’s challenging Democratic incumbent Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

Meuser forecast a “political tide change.” He said Proposition 6, which seeks to repeal the state’s gas tax increase approved by Gov. Jerry Brown last year, will boost voter engagement on Election Day.

A statewide poll released Thursday from Probolsky Research showed Newsom leading with 44 percent of respondents, while John Cox had 39 percent support. Seventeen percent were unsure who they would support.

“If you want to be on the red wave, we can’t continue to sit on the beach,” Meuser said.

“We have to swim out there and surf that wave into California. If you want to see that, it means we have to work for it … we have to get out there and get involved.”

In an interview, Cox said it’s critical to repeal the gas tax increase that’s intended to fund projects for the state’s transportation systems.

“I see them every day — the forgotten Californians who are working two jobs to try to put their kids through school, that are driving an hour and a half, two hours each way stuck in traffic burning $4 a gallon in gasoline … those are the people Gavin Newsom steps over on his way to Starbucks,” he told the crowd.

Cox said he’s focused on creating affordable housing in California. He said it can be achieved in part by reforming the California Environmental Quality Act, streamlining regulations, and providing incentives for local authorities.

He condemned offshore drilling in California and called for more forest management to help control wildfires.

He said the state needs more legal immigration, balanced with stronger borders and a repeal of Senate Bill 54, the so-called sanctuary state policy that prohibits local and state law enforcement from using department resources, such as personnel or facilities, to investigate or arrest individuals for federal immigration authorities. He slammed Newsom’s calls to reform the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

“The men and women of ICE are doing a good job and should be honored for what they’re doing,” Cox said in an interview.

More than a decade ago, Cox and his investment firm paid fines of $16,000 to securities regulators to settle charges of mishandling client funds, the Sacramento Bee reported last week. Still, Cox called his ventures a “roaring success” that set him apart from Newsom.

“I didn’t have the right kind of escrow account for one my investment partnerships … so I got fined,” he said. “That was the essence of that but that’s not what the newspapers printed. When you have a business and you have a lot of things going, you’re going to have those kinds of mistakes. That was a mistake and I paid the fine and that was the end of it.”

Cox’s candidacy might seem to be a tough sell in Sonoma County, where records show 18.5 percent of voters are Republicans and 52 percent are Democrats among the 272,301 registered.

But, Jeanette Lynn McFall, a Santa Rosa Realtor who said she’s Cox’s Sonoma County campaign chairwoman, disagreed. McFall, who carried photos of her with Donald Trump, said she’s seen positive reactions while registering Republican voters at the Sonoma County Fair.

“They tell me, “we’re supporting you,’ ” she said. “But they don’t talk about it. That’s why you don’t hear about it. It’s the silent majority in Sonoma County.”

The breakfast event also drew calls for change from state controller candidate Konstantinos Roditis; state treasurer hopeful Greg Conlon; State Assembly District 2 candidate Matt Heath; and Steven Bailey, a former judge running for state attorney general.

It was inspiring for Nancy Pecor, a Republican who lives part time in Sonoma County and plans to knock on doors to campaign for the candidates.

“I’m very excited and very encouraged,” she said. “There’s a lot of energy here.”

That’s exactly what Edelweiss Geary, chairwoman of the Sonoma County Republican Party, was hoping for: to instill a “strong desire to vote Republican.”

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