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Act Two: David Cobb follows in the footsteps of the Green Nader machine of 2000.

The Invisible Primary

Anybody remember the Green Party?

By Najeeb Hasan

THE ROAD to the top, as they say, is indeed lonely. Especially, one might add--though most progressives probably wouldn't--if you vote Green.

David Cobb, the 40-year-old easygoing attorney seeking the Green Party nomination for the U.S. Presidency, swung through the South Bay last Thursday, making pit stops in a Milpitas mobile home park, San Jose's Low-Income Self-Help Center and a Mexican restaurant on East Julian Street.

The South Bay, as always, demonstrated its progressive bent for Cobb's campaign swing. In Milpitas, Cobb was joined by a grand total of six enthusiastic listeners, one of whom was his host, Warner Bloomberg, who is running for the Assembly District 23 Green nomination. The number in the audience had a chance to swell to seven when a resident wandered past Cobb's group, but she quickly went on her way when she discovered the gathering was political. Later, in a room provided by Casa Vicky, Cobb pulled off a rousing stump speech for the benefit of an audience numbering in the low teens. Again, Bloomberg was part of the mix.

Cobb, however, was unperturbed.

As he likes to tell it--and Cobb's a skilled orator, the grandson of a Baptist preacher, his voice endowed with just enough of a Texan lilt, honed to effortlessly switch his emotional tone from steady to exuberant, from indignant to angry to genuinely hopeful--Cobb is no stranger to starting small. One of the stories he constantly recycles on the stump is one about his induction into the Green Party.

During his two-decade history with progressive politics, he worked on both Jesse Jackson's and Jerry Brown's presidential runs. "The Democratic Party presidential primary is where progressive politics goes to die" has proven to be one of Cobb's favorite slogans. In 1996, he heard Ralph Nader was going to make a bid as a Green candidate.

"I was shocked," says Cobb, who moved to Humboldt County last year. "I was in Texas. I was shocked because, No. 1, Ralph Nader had always said he would never get involved in electoral politics. And No. 2, I was doubly shocked: I didn't know there was a Green Party in this country. It was pre-Internet ... at least for me [the use of the dramatic pause and quip is a routine Cobb employs often], and word had not filtered down to Texas that there was Green Party organizing going on in this country. I immediately called information in Houston to find out where the Greens were. Where can I get hooked in? There was no Green Party in Houston. That's OK. I was not to be deterred. I called Austin, Texas, to find out about the Greens in Texas. There was no Green Party in Texas."

It's here that Cobb, who helped put Greens on the Texas ballot in 2000 by collecting an astonishing 76,000 signatures in 75 days from registered voters who had participated in neither the Democratic or Republican primaries, likes to rattle off numbers that show small could indeed turn out to be big ... someday.

In 1996, the Greens had 10 organized state parties and guaranteed placement on ballots in five state elections; in 2000, the Greens had 21 organized parties and 10 guaranteed ballot lines; today, in 2004, the Greens have 44 organized parties and 22 guaranteed ballot lines.

And so, for Cobb, Greens have not been spoilers but builders; he offers instant-run-off voting as a solution to avoid strategic voting. Nader's candidacy in 2000 only helped build the Green political base.

"Am I the only one who sees a trend?" Cobb asks. He would undoubtedly bellow the question had he been addressing more than six people. "I'll leave it to you on why the media is not covering the growth of the Green Party."

Cobb's distrust of media extends beyond just the happenings of the Green Party. He observes that Howard Dean lost momentum soon after appearing on the cable news program Hardball and vowing to crack down on corporate-controlled media.

Within days, Cobb says, the media began casting doubts on Dean's candidacy, in effect transforming him from front-runner to has-been.

But perhaps Cobb's most interesting criticism is his take on the candidacies of Dennis Kucinich, who is endorsed by San Francisco Green hero Matt Gonzalez, and Al Sharpton. Cobb says wouldn't run against either man because he doesn't want to split the progressive vote.

"There is no doubt in my mind that Dennis Kucinich's claim that he will not drop out under any circumstances is to try to keep those progressive Democrats hanging on by a thread rather than abandoning the Democratic Party and coming into the Green Party where they belong. I'm sure of it," declares Cobb, who has shared stages with Kucinich in the past. "I don't think Dennis knows he's doing it. I don't know whether Dennis Kucinich went through a thought process that specifically said, 'I'm going to run to keep Democrats in the party.' I do know this. That is the end result. And I am absolutely convinced that the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Leadership Council know this, and I am convinced they are pleased to see Kucinich and Sharpton staying in the race for that reason."

William Pitt, Kucinich's press secretary, was bemused when relayed Cobb's perspective. "That sounds very conspiratorial to me," offers Pitt. "Dennis Kucinich is a Democrat. He has always been a Democrat. He's running as a Democrat to bring progressive issues to the table. Dennis has an enormous amount of respect for the Green Party, and there's no plan [to take their votes]. It's not a matter of trying to take progressive voters away from the Greens; it's about trying to reinvest progressive values in the Democratic Party."

When is music pointed out that most of these accomplishments are ancient history, Cobb turns to--of all people--Ross Perot.

"For two decades before 1992, the establishment parties were using the need for a balanced budget as a political football," he explains. "One side was blaming the other. They went back and forth blaming each other. Poll after poll showed that American people wanted to see the federal budget balanced. After two decades of this, Ross Perot runs for president in 1992 and captures over 15 percent of the vote. Two years later, the budget is balanced. And that's what has happened throughout all of history. In order to make really deep changes, there has to be a lot of political will shown at the ballot box to demonstrate to a large mass of people [that there is an alternative]."


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From the February 18-25, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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