Greens to Run Presidential Candidate in 2004, But Who?

by Brad Carlton

Insiders at the Green Party conference said that Texas attorney David Cobb, in particular, is the contender to watch and might even spoil Nader's nomination.
WASHINGTON, D.C., July 21--"We in the Green Party have a reached a clear consensus that we must run a candidate [for President] in 2004," Green Party (GP) spokesman Scott McClarty said at the GP National Conference in Washington, D.C. last weekend.

However, according to party insiders, it is not a foregone conclusion that Ralph Nader, the noted consumer advocate and GP presidential candidate in the 2000 election, will win the 2004 nomination.

"We have six people actively talking about a presidential campaign in 2004," McClarty said.

Those six people are Nader; David Cobb, a Texan attorney; Paul Glover, an upstate New York magazine editor; Cynthia McKinney, a former Democratic Congresswoman from Georgia; Carol Miller, a New Mexican and former public health official under the Reagan and Clinton administrations; and Lorna Salzman, an environmentalist from New York.

Some Green Party insiders at the conference said that Cobb, in particular, is the contender to watch and might even spoil Nader's nomination.

"Based on the response he got, if David runs he will win over a lot of people, especially from the working-class and black part of the audience," a prominent Green Party activist and staff member said.

Cobb, who has declared his intention to run but has not made an official announcement, said his strategy going into the primary is to "visit every state" where the Green Party has a chapter and "create state parties where they don't exist." Currently there are 43 official Green Party state chapters, including one in the District of Columbia. By personally visiting and talking to all the state delegates who will vote in the 2004 convention, Cobb said he hopes to win the support of those who will directly decide the nominee.

"If David is able to get around the country and campaign the way he says he wants to," said the GP staff member, "it'll be a more competitive primary than it was last time."

State laws could cause many Green chapters to lose their ballot access if they do not run a presidential candidate in every election.

The staffer added that Cobb's populist rhetorical fervor "appeals to an audience broader than your traditional Greens. It's a different crowd than Ralph appeals to, which is primarily an educated group." Matthew Zawisky, the national organizer for Nader's "Democracy Rising" super-rallies, said the heightened competition is healthy for the Green Party and democracy in general. "It's a good thing to have competition, to challenge, to debate Nader's ability as a candidate. And it's good for Green to have a contested primary this early."

So far, it appears that only Cobb and McKinney will be serious challengers to Nader. Salzman and Glover have both said that they are running to stimulate debate on certain issues, though in essence each supports Nader, still the presumptive nominee. Miller is running so that New Mexico can adopt a "favorite daughter" strategy-that is, a process by which a state delegation brings its own tentative candidate to the nominating convention but remains free to change its vote at the convention itself.

Nader has not officially declared his candidacy and is not expected to do so until January, but the Greens are committed to running a candidate regardless of Nader's decision, according to McClarty. In part, that is because state laws could cause many Green chapters to lose their ballot access if they do not run a presidential candidate in every election, McClarty said.

Nader has stated publicly that his decision to run will in part be based on whether Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a friend of Nader's who is co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, captures the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

Cobb also expressed admiration for Kucinich, saying he would run a "safe states" strategy—a campaign that is focused in states where President Bush has a sizeable majority—should the Democrats choose Kucinich to be their nominee.

However, according to Santa Monica Mayor pro tem and California GP delegate Kevin McKeown, "That's like picking out what pair of skates you're going to buy for the day hell freezes over. Dennis Kucinich is not going to be the Democratic nominee."

In the more likely event the Democrats nominate someone else, Cobb advocated a "strategic states" strategy, in which he would campaign to win but redouble his efforts in "states where I can cost Bush the election." However, he said, there is a caveat: "If Joe Lieberman becomes the Democratic nominee, all bets are off." Nader was the object of much criticism following the 2000 election, in which he received 2.8 million votes but failed to reach the 5 percent threshold the Green Party needed to qualify for federal campaign funds in future elections. Pundits, mainline Democrats, and anti-Bush independents blamed Nader for competing hardest in toss-up states, which cost Al Gore the presidency. The point is hotly contested by Greens, who blame the Supreme Court, Katharine Harris, and Gore himself for Bush's win.

The argument flared anew, during and after the GP press conference, between party advocates and representatives of the media, who are already criticizing a Nader and/or Green Party presidential bid. After the conference, Michael Tomasky, the incoming executive editor of The American Prospect, wrote an op-ed calling Nader "a madman for thinking of running again" and exhorting Democrats to begin attacking him "immediately and ferociously."

A reporter who was covering the conference for one of the nation's leading liberal magazines, said, in private, that an organization like the Green Party that "welcomes anyone, regardless, will attract people who use it as therapy." He then cast aspersions on the potential Green candidates with the biggest name recognition, McKinney and Nader. "She's a loose cannon. He's a control freak."

The Democrats, asserted one Green Party stalwart, are "irrelevant" because they are not a true opposition party. "The next election should be a Green-Republican contest. I don't understand why Democrats are running at all. They're not going to make a difference."

Another reporter, from National Public Radio, challenged Greens at the press conference who condemned the PATRIOT Act to justify their spoiling the 2000 election for the administration that drafted it. "What I'm suggesting," she said, "is that the Green Party is responsible for the PATRIOT Act."

The Green Party members in attendance bristled at the suggestion. Peter Miguel Camejo, the GP candidate in California's gubernatorial recall referendum this fall, called the suggestion "insulting" and said, "That's like saying the abolitionists are responsible for slavery." He went on to point out that only one Democrat in Congress voted against the PATRIOT Act, while Greens have been fighting it all along.

Both sides failed to mention that many of the provisions of the PATRIOT Act were part of the Counter-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 that the Clinton administration tried and failed to get Congress to pass.

Carol Miller strongly denounced the spoiler argument. "Is there any more wasted vote than a Texan voting for a Democrat? Why should we be the only ones worried about being spoilers? These wasted Democratic votes spoil things for us."

She added that the legacy of the two-party system is a "prison industrial complex," with more than 2 million people incarcerated, and fiscal policies that "since 1950 have spent more money on nuclear weapons than on education. Our nation's wealth is being squandered on weapons of mass destruction."

The Democrats, she continued, are "irrelevant" because they are not a true opposition party. "The next election should be a Green-Republican contest. I don't understand why Democraats are running at all. They're not going to make a difference."

Reference: The Green Party's "Ten Key Values" Platform

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This story was published on July 31, 2003.