“We didn’t have a consultant so I did everything: organize phone banks and walks, write and produce television ads,” Cox said. “It’s like your internship and residency in one,” Cox added, unable to escape his family’s main occupation.
When Democrats used National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President Julian Bond to attack Harris, the GOP nominee’s first instinct was to forcefully fight back. Cox advised against it.
“In the heat of the moment, candidates can easily get off message,” said Harris, who is now an attorney at Ernst & Young. “I’m glad I followed his advice.”
Harris won the general election with 63 percent, capturing the seat once held by Thomas Jefferson and becoming the first black Republican elected Delegate in Virginia since 1891.
It wasn’t the last time Cox guided a candidate through crisis.
In 2009 during the McDonnell campaign, the Washington Post uncovered the GOP nominee’s graduate school thesis that included controversial views on abortion, marriage and the role of women.
Cox knew it was a “potential game changer” and recommended that McDonnell hold an “Arnie Vinick-style” press conference, drawing some political wisdom from that character on television’s “The West Wing.” The day after the story broke, McDonnell held a 90-minute conference call that exhausted reporters’ questions.
“His advice was very sage,” McDonnell told Roll Call. “He was an incredibly steady hand.”
The Republican won the general election by 18 points in a state that President Barack Obama had carried by 7 points a year prior.
“He has the ability to see the big picture, evaluate the ups and downs and ask ‘how does it fit into the voters’ collective memory?’” said McDonnell, the new vice chairman of the RGA.
Cox honed his campaign skills with Tim Phillips, who is now president of Americans for Prosperity. The two men consulted on dozens of races in Virginia and quintupled the number of state chapters of the AFP.
But Cox hasn’t always been on the winning team.
He managed a losing challenge to Rep. Rick Boucher (D) in 1998 but nearly derailed now-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R) political career two years later. Cantor had more money and the support of the retiring Congressman, but he defeated Cox’s candidate by a mere 263 votes in the primary.
In 2001, Cox managed Lt. Gov. John Hager’s (R) unsuccessful gubernatorial run but never lost his dream of helping to elect a governor of Virginia.
“When I decided to run for governor there was no better person than Phil to run my campaign,” said McDonnell, who was impressed with Cox’s work on the Harris campaign and included him as part of his own team soon after. “He was a talented young guy, mature beyond his years.”
After winning the Virginia governorship, McDonnell put Cox in charge of the transition. After the Saturday inauguration, Cox reported for work the following Monday at the RGA.