SMITHTOWN, N.Y. — Richard Nixon's grandson is joining the family business.
Like the Kennedys, Carters, Cuomos and Bushes before him, 30-year-old Christopher Nixon Cox is hoping to use his family's political legacy as a springboard to political office. He's seeking the GOP nomination to run against four-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop in eastern Long Island – a seat Republicans hope to win as part of the party's effort to recapture the House.
In his first extensive interview since announcing his candidacy, Cox told The Associated Press on Tuesday that while he is aware of his grandfather's controversial place in history, it has not yet posed a problem for him on the campaign trail.
"I've honestly only seen upside at this point. Wherever we go people say that my grandfather was their favorite president," said Cox, whose easy smile and bellowing laugh are a contrast to the dour, often awkward man history will remember as the first president to quit the White House, in the midst of the Watergate scandal.
Cox is the only son of Nixon's oldest daughter, Tricia, who married Edward Finch Cox in a White House ceremony in 1971. The elder Cox now chairs the New York State Republican Party.
Chris Cox was born in 1979, five years after Nixon resigned in disgrace. He said voters today are not likely to judge him based on his grandfather's infamous place in history.
"I think bringing up the 1970s is great if you're sitting in a history class, but these are serious times and we need somebody who is going to seriously delve into policy issues and not talk about history," he said.
But some disagree.
"The name Nixon does not exactly evoke a positive image among all voters," said Lawrence Levy, the head of Hofstra University's National Center on Suburban Studies and a longtime observer of Long Island politics. "Among a lot of voters, Nixon means Watergate and Watergate means disgrace."
Cox, an attorney who runs a business consulting firm, is one of about a half-dozen Republicans who have announced plans to compete in the GOP primary in September.
On the subject of a contested primary, Cox is quick to cite Nixon.
"It's like my grandfather said in 1968, he was going to be tested in the fires of the primary," Cox said Tuesday, the day former President Jimmy Carter's eldest grandson won a Georgia legislative seat.
Local Republican county leader John Jay LaValle has said his organization will not endorse any of the Republicans seeking to challenge Bishop – a decision Cox endorses.
"When actual voters decide. I think that will be a powerful message in the fall," Cox said.
Defeating Bishop is essential for the GOP to capture the House, Cox said, noting that the seat is among 10 the party will need to win.
Of the incumbent, Cox said: "Bishop has been in awhile, people know him, but people also don't necessarily know the policies he's been supporting in Washington, D.C."
Cox also took a swipe at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, suggesting Bishop is "really representing San Francisco values."
The comment drew immediate fire from the incumbent's camp.
"Chris Cox's comments are comical coming from a guy who has lived in the district a couple of weeks and lives in his grandfather's Hamptons mansion," said Bishop spokesman Jon Schneider, noting Cox had previously lived in New York City before registering as a Westhampton Beach resident.
Cox also rejects suggestions that his father, the state GOP chairman, has influenced the race.
"He gave me some advice on getting started," he said. "If he calls me up at 10 o'clock at night, he asks why aren't you out knocking on more doors."
The aspiring politician says his grandfather, who mostly talked with him about the Mets and Giants before his death in 1994, when Cox was 15, did provide advice that may come in handy between now and November.
"What he would tell me is the only way you lose is if you stay on the floor," Cox said. "You're going to get knocked down time and time again, but keep coming back. And keep trying. The only time you lose is when you stop trying."