PELHAM — The first person to publicly announce his candidacy for the 2008 presidential election gave those in attendance at the Pelham Middle School last week an idea of how he’d run things from the Oval Office.

At the Aug. 25 event organized by the Pelham Young Republicans, John Cox, a Republican businessman from Chicago, said he is seeking the presidency because his party has strayed from its principles.

“The Republicans have lost some of their common sense,” said the 50-year-old millionaire. “They’ve signed onto the idea that spending and bigger government are ways to solve problems. Republicans have forgotten what being a Republican is all about.”

Declaring himself a Reagan Republican, Cox vowed to get rid of the IRS, create a national income tax, and insure that immigration laws are strictly enforced if elected to the White House.

Cox, who was in New Hampshire for most of last week, said he visited every major city in the state except Nashua. He has also spent time in Iowa, where the first presidential caucus is held.

“I’ve got to get known,” said Cox. “John McCain was on Meet the Press on Sunday for an hour. Tim Russert hasn’t called me yet. I’ve got to get my name out there.”

In the past six years, Cox has run for public office three times without success. He lost bids for Congress in 2000, the U.S. Senate in 2002 and recorder of deeds in 2004. He now touts his lack of political experience.

Calling himself as “the anti-Hillary,” in reference to potential Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Cox said the country needs a president who is not a career politician.

He also addressed doubters who see his candidacy as a longshot.

“This is one of the most wide-open races in the history of the country,” he said. “It’s the first time in a while that an incumbent president or vice president is not in the race. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Shaun Doherty is the chairman of the Pelham Young Republicans and arranged for Cox to speak at the Pelham Middle School. The 18-year-old Pelham native has not backed a candidate yet, but he likes much of what Cox has to say.

“He’s an outsider, but he’s been successful in his career,” said Doherty, who will be a freshman at Rivier College this year. “If he puts his name out there and runs the right ads, he has a legitimate shot. He kind of reminds me of Steve Forbes.”

Former New Hampshire Speaker of the House Marshall Cobleigh was not impressed.

“He’s aggressive. I was overwhelmed by him,” said the 76-year-old.

Eric Estevez, a 23-year-old Harvard graduate student from Pelham, thought the rags-to-riches story Cox told was admirable.

“It’s like a movie,” said Estevez, who is currently seeking a spot in the New Hampshire Legislature. “He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and I think it shows you that anybody in America can grow up to be president if you work hard and play by the rules.”

As recent as 2004, Cox’s net worth was estimated somewhere between $1.4 million and $9 million, according to personal closure documents. Cox is a tax lawyer and an accountant, and he manages real-estate and investment portfolios.