Republican gubernatorial candidate and businessman John Cox stopped in Palm Desert Wednesday, where he emphasized the negative ramifications of the state’s COVID-19 shutdowns on small businesses.

Cox, who is vying to unseat Gov. Gavin Newsom in a recall election later this year, visited Castelli’s Restaurant as part of his “Meet the Beast” bus tour.

“As pretty boy Gavin Newsom had a $12,000 dinner with lobbyists, small businesses suffered,” Cox said at the restaurant, his ninth stop of the tour. “Many closed permanently and millions of Californians lost their jobs. We need to make beastly changes to get our economy roaring again. It starts with cutting taxes and bringing common-sense to Sacramento.”

Cox was without Tag — a Kodiak bear Cox first used in his official campaign kickoff event in Sacramento last week. He used the animal to illustrate his campaign theme of “Beauty and the Beast.”

Newsom, whom Cox presents as an elitist out of touch with the needs of Californians, is the “beauty” in that equation.

The campaign tactic drew criticism from animal-rights groups, although Cox claimed the bear is tame and well taken care of.

Campaign press secretary Anthony Ramirez told City News Service that Tag had prior engagements on Wednesday and could not make the Palm Desert event. Tag joined Cox at two events in San Diego on Tuesday.

After the Sacramento appearance, Tag was absent at subsequent Cox campaign events. When asked Tuesday if the campaign would discontinue usage of Tag, Ramirez said it was “to be determined.”

Newsom defeated Cox 62%-38% in the 2018 gubernatorial race.

The field of Republican challengers includes former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, former reality TV star and 1976 Olympic decathlon gold medal winner Caitlyn Jenner and former Rep. Doug Ose.

Newsom has criticized the need for a special recall election, calling it a “waste of time” and money because the 2022 gubernatorial primary will be a few months later.

While the cost of the recall election is not known, it will not have a major impact on the state budget. The proposed state budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year is $227 billion.

Newsom was scheduled to be in Monterey County on Wednesday to announce what an aide called a proposal for an unprecedented level of school funding.

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