Justin Sullivan/Getty John Cox (left)
Perennial also-ran candidate John Cox is one of multiple notable names set to challenge California Gov. Gavin Newsom later this year in an expected recall election — and he's setting himself apart in particularly furry fashion.
Cox, 65, held his first campaign event Tuesday alongside a 1,000-lb. bear.
That earned him plenty of headlines but just as much criticism from animal rights advocates.
"It's unfortunate and shameful that Tag the Kodiak bear has been exploited in this way," tweeted PETA, the animal rights organization. "Bears need to be left alone, not confined to a pen on asphalt and wheeled out for events."
The group urged "anyone with an ounce of decency to keep wild animals out of their publicity stunts."
Cox, who is referring to himself as "The Beast" in campaign ads, has been using the large brown bear as a pseudo running mate and said he plans to bring the animal on a bus tour with him across the state.
Cox's campaign maintains the bear is safe and criticized "left-wing activists" for taking exception to the publicity stunt.
"Every care was taken to ensure Tag's comfort and safety," Cox spokesperson Anthony Ramirez told PEOPLE in a statement.
Ramirez said the campaign had received approval for the bear's appearance from "several government agencies."
Oakland Zoo's assistant director of animal care, Darren Minier, told local TV station KGO that although the bear is a trained "movie bear," it could still potentially be dangerous for human beings and inhumane for the bear.
"This was no doubt a stunt, but I don't believe animals should be subjected to stunts," Minier said. "We believe that it is wrong for animals to be exploited in this way."
Justin Sullivan/Getty John Cox
Cox has a history of unsuccessful campaigns: He lost to Newsom in the 2018 and previously ran for president, failed twice to get elected to Congress and lost a local election for a county seat in Illinois.
His 2021 campaign is looking to beat out what may be dozens of other Republicans in an effort to unseat Newsom, 53.
The governor is facing a recall vote after a Republican-led campaign gathered enough signatures across the state to force a special election.
"I am not going to take this recall attempt lying down," Newsom said in March. "I'm going to fight because there's too much at stake in this moment."
The election allows Californians to decide, first, whether they want to oust Newsom — who is in his first term and has faced much scrutiny, particularly from Republicans, over his handling of COVID-19.
If Californians choose to replace him, a second question on the ballot will ask them to vote on his successor.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Brown Bear
A growing list of candidates has already lined up, from ex-lawmakers to a porn star to local celebrities.
Newsom's campaign has indicated it sees Caitlyn Jenner as his biggest political threat among conservatives.
The election is expected to take place by the fall. The state's last recall, in 2003, ended with Arnold Schwarzenegger ousting incumbent Gray Davis.