Cox, who was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1990, touted his years of experience compared to the rest of the Republican field, most of whom have never held elected office.
"I was a U.S. and Virginia government teacher, and I did that for 30 years. I loved that. Not long after I started teaching, I ran for the House of Delegates and was fortunate enough to work my way up to speaker," he told Fox News in an interview. "I think I'm the person to beat [McAuliffe]."
Virginia has shifted from a battleground state to a solidly blue state in recent presidential elections, and has elected Democrats in the last two gubernatorial races. The 2021 race will be closely watched as the first statewide election since Democrats took control of the White House and Senate in 2020.
"I'm the only person in the race who's ever shown the ability to win under tough circumstances," he said, adding that his district near Richmond went to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Cox is still a member of the House of Delegates and is running against a crowded field for the Republican nomination, which will be decided by convention in May. Meanwhile, the Democratic field appears to be led by McAuliffe, although many Virginia voters of both parties remain undecided.
Cox also touts his more than 400 endorsements, including from former Virginia governors Bob McDonnell and George Allen.
"I don't think there's anyone who comes close" to that number of "key" endorsements, Cox said.
"I do feel like we have the best organization. We have been calling for weeks, lining up delegates," he said. "We're visiting all of the state."
A major component of Cox's campaign is his plan to not only reopen schools but to combat learning loss.
"A lost year can become a lost generation," the former teacher said. "I was advocating to open all schools in July, and of course Gov. Northam did nothing on that. ... The Democrats weren't interested in anything creative to directly help parents."
Some of Cox's creative proposals include screening students this spring to find out where they are academically, incentivizing retired teachers and student teachers to do one-on-one tutoring and giving students the option of summer school. The roughly $80 million price tag could be paid for using federal coronavirus relief funding, Cox said.
Meanwhile, Cox's Republican rival Pete Snyder is branding himself as the "school reopening" candidate.
"I'm glad any candidate is talking about reopening, but I would make the point before I thought about running for governor, I was focusing on this issue with very specific proposals," Cox said. "I was doing this six months before Pete."
Cox has also focused on Big Tech and says he has a comprehensive plan to combat censorship at a state level, with proposals to allow users to opt out of certain algorithms and require tech companies to give users opportunity for redress if their accounts are banned or suspended.
Cox cited the example of Dance's Sporting Goods, a Virginia business that was censored after posting about ammunition for sale.
"I do think it is something a state can take on. Let’s face it, the federal government should be taking it on, also," Cox said. "This whole cancel culture that we hear so much about is really a result of the Democratic one-party control."
Cox's plan includes $100,000 daily fines for Big Tech companies that break the law.
"The biggest piece is the accountability piece if anyone is going to hold Big Tech companies accountable where it hurts, and that is in their wallets," he said.