The Green Party in 2004: More Than Party Survival

(The article below is an account of the genesis, experiences and accomplishments of the David Cobb/Pat LaMarche 2004 Green Party Presidential/Vice-Presidential campaign. I was active from the early days of that effort and am proud of my involvement. I believe there are important lessons that can be drawn from it for the future.)


Organized outreach to potential Presidential candidates by the Green Party’s Presidential Exploratory Committee began in 2002, but it wasn’t until the spring of 2003 that the discussion within the Green Party of the United States (GPUS) about a 2004 Presidential campaign began to heat up.


The first major article addressing the 2004 presidential question was written at that time by John Rensenbrink and Tom Sevigny, both national figures within the GPUS. In “The Green Party and the 2004 Elections: A Three-Dimensional Plan,” they explained, “The prospect of a Green Party run for the presidency is producing a gathering storm of debate within and without the party, peppered with near-panic declarations, threatening to engulf the party in fractious internal contestation. One long-time and savvy leader of the Greens describes the situation as ‘a dark and scary tunnel.’”


Rensenbrink and Sevigny proposed that the GPUS run 4-6 candidates for Congress in “carefully selected districts,” run “home grown Greens for President and Vice President” who would campaign strategically in a way which would minimize the risk of helping Bush get re-elected, and invite GP supporters like Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney to support these efforts. They also raised the idea that if the race was very close a couple of weeks before election day, a “home grown Green” might withdraw.


Key reasons for such an approach were to “transcend the spoiler argument,” “open the door for the Green message to be heard on its merits,” and “surmount the baggage from the past.” They were addressing the belief on the part of many outside the GPUS that Nader was responsible for Bush taking office in 2000, a belief virtually all Greens and certainly this author rejects.



“Green & Growing”


About a month later two other documents came out. One, “Green and Growing: 2004 in Perspective,” was coordinated by GPUS co-chair Ben Manski and eventually signed by about 164 Greens from around the country. It was a comprehensive overview of the state of the GPUS, with thoughts on how it could best continue to grow in 2004. On the key question of the presidential race, it took a forthright position: “We think it essential to build a vigorous presidential campaign now, so that there is a Green opposition ticket in full bloom next Spring. A strong Green presidential ticket will provide voters with the means to confront the establishment parties for their disastrous economic, international, ecological, and social policies. A strong Green ticket will force the establishment to address the failures of the electoral system, and to choose between the implementation of reforms such as Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) and the continued loss of votes to the Greens. A strong Green ticket will bring non-voters into the arena of electoral politics, and thus strengthen the overall movement for democracy in the United States.”


But the signers were aware of the difficult political situation facing the GPUS: “In some regards, holding our own in the presidential elections would

represent a significant victory. No one expects the Greens to break out in this race. Given the history of third parties in the U.S., the Greens are not even supposed to exist anymore.”



A ‘Safe States’ Strategy


The other document was put out by myself. It was entitled, “A Green Party ‘Safe States’ Strategy.” In it I strongly supported the GPUS running a presidential candidate but put out that it needed to “explicitly focus the campaign only in those ‘safe states’ where past voting histories and current polling indicates that either Bush or the Democrat is very likely to win.” I argued that this would make clear that the Greens wanted Bush out of office, strengthen our ties with progressive Democrats and “increase the popular vote for the Greens towards 5%” by arguing in the ‘safe states’ that progressive-minded voters should not waste their vote on the Democrat.


The debate was underway, and it is still reverberating.


In mid-July, 2003, 230 Greens came together in Washington, D.C. for a national GPUS meeting. They included members of the GPUS National Committee, representing every state party affiliated with the national Green Party.


The presidential question was on everyone’s minds. At the meeting, several of the individuals who were interested in or considering going for the GPUS nomination made presentations, among them David Cobb, Lorna Salzman, Carol Miller and, representing Ralph Nader, Theresa Amato, his 2000 campaign manager. A letter was also received from Cynthia McKinney. There was discussion about strategy and a non-binding straw poll about people’s preferences. The vast majority of those present supported running a candidate, and a distinct majority supported what began to be called an “all-out” campaign, as distinct from ‘safe states.’



A “Smart Growth” Approach


At the 2003 meeting David Cobb put forward a proposal for a nuanced approach–what he called a “smart growth” strategy: “The primary goal of the Cobb campaign is to grow the Green Party,” meaning increased voter registration, increased membership in local and state parties, support to local candidates and ballot line efforts and the creation of new local and state parties. The secondary goal of the Cobb campaign is to culminate the campaign with Bush out of office.”


David put forward this perspective on Bush: “George Bush is a very big problem, but he is not THE problem. The real problem is the economic and political system that is destroying the planet and creating such an unjust world. . . If we want to participate in the growing progressive movements and see our party continue to grow, we must demonstrate to the American people (and especially progressive voters) that we hear their concerns of the real danger Bush poses.”



Cobb put forward a four-point approach:


1) Run an aggressive, nationwide campaign that concentrates on organizing, energizing and activating existing and new Greens.


2) Prioritize states that have the greatest potential for party growth.


3) Campaign strategically in swing states to advance goals identified by the state party (like a ballot line or supporting local candidates)


4) Address the spoiler issue head on; highlight instant runoff voting while acknowledging differences between Bush and the Democrat; expend more effort in safe states; focus on internal party building.


During 2003 Cobb was engaged in serious exploratory efforts with Greens across the country. Between January 2004 until the national nominating convention in June 2004, David traveled to over 40 states, making clear that he was serious about contesting for the Presidential nomination. He attended state and local Green Party conventions, caucuses and meetings, usually sleeping on sofas and in spare rooms of Green activists.



McKinney and Nader


While Cobb was traveling and organizing in 2003, efforts were being made by Greens to draft former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. It should be noted that Cobb himself encouraged McKinney to seek the GP presidential nomination and indicated he would support her if she did. Outreach efforts were also being made to Ralph Nader. McKinney and Nader both let it be known that they were considering their options, and running for the GPUS nomination was one of them.


The McKinney effort made little headway, primarily because she never actively involved herself in exploratory efforts. By January she had decided to run for her old seat in Congress as a Democrat rather than for President as a Green.


Nader did very little himself until the latter part of November. Prior to that he had turned down efforts to put him on the ballot of state Green parties in every state where the Green Party qualified to conduct a state-sponsored primary election–Rhode Island, California, DC and Massachusetts.


In late 2003, word began circulating that he was considering running as an independent and that he might not participate in the Green Party process in any manner.



Yet Another Proposal


In mid-November a “Statement on Green Party Strategy for 2004″ was put out, signed initially by 18 Greens around the country, including Rensenbrink, Sevigny, Glick, LaMarche, former GPUS Political Director Dean Myerson, GPUS co-chair Anita Rios and Medea Benjamin. Within a couple of weeks a total of 52 Greens had signed this statement. In its conclusion it called for:


-”Candidates seeking the Green Party Presidential nomination to describe the strategy they would follow.


-The Green Party to debate all strategies with respect–and for the national Green Party to take a stance on its preferred strategy . . .


-All Greens to declare their solidarity with our brothers and sisters in progressive organizations across the country in calling for the defeat of the illegitimate Bush administration, while at the same time demanding that the

electoral system be reformed to include IRV, fair ballot access and public financing.”


This statement did not meet with uniform support. Some Greens saw it as a way to discourage Ralph Nader from running by attempting to put boundaries around his, or anybody else’s, campaign. Others disagreed that we should concern ourselves with choosing between Bush and the Democrats.



Nader’s Exploratory Efforts


In December 2003 Nader traveled to about 7-8 states on the east coast, meeting with local Green Party activists to discuss his thinking about a possible Nader Presidential campaign and test the waters. I personally attended the New Jersey meeting and took extensive notes. Highlights of Nader’s comments were:


“There are three purposes to my run:


1) To push our agenda and expose incumbents and retire Bush.


2) To show the Democrats how to go after Bush and push a progressive agenda. You can’t be cautious. They’re not hitting on the corporate crime issue (Enron, Worldcom, etc.), for example. In 2002 we sat down with Dick Gephardt and gave him a whole approach they should use on this issue, and they didn’t do it.


When I was much younger I once asked Norman Thomas, the Socialist Party leader who ran for President a number of times, what his greatest achievement was. He said it was having the Democrats steal our platform.


3) (He never clearly delineated what number 3 was)


-The Democrats should look at us in this way: we’re testing out a different way of campaigning that they can learn from. They will benefit from the spillover votes that come from our voter turnout efforts that go to Democratic Congressional candidates, like what happened with U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell in Washington in 2000. And we will be going after some of Bush’s conservative voters, conservatives who are upset about the Patriot Act, NAFTA, GATT, the WTO, the budget deficit, etc. 25% of my votes in 2000 were from Republicans.


-My strategy is to excite more people to vote (understanding that a lot of them will end up voting for the Democrat) and to drive a wedge between the Republicans and their discontented conservatives.


-As far as focusing my campaign in the fall 2004 in safe or strategic states, I can’t look people in the eye in Wisconsin, New Mexico, Oregon and tell them I won’t be in your state for the last eight weeks. I also question if the

argument–you’re in a state that is going to go heavily for Bush so that you don’t have to worry, you should vote for who you believe is the best candidate–really worked in 2000.”



Nader’s First Bombshell


On December 22nd, Nader sent out a formal letter to the national Green Party

announcing that he had decided not to seek the Green Party’s nomination. In his letter he detailed his active support for the Green Party since 1996, reaffirmed his belief in a third party alternative to the Dems and Reps but went on to say, “uncertainty expressed by the Party’s leadership regarding the conditions under which the Party may or may not field Presidential and Vice-presidential candidates in 2004 can only be interpreted as a confused retreat.”


He went on to say that, given what he called “robust contending views about whether to have a Presidential candidate and under which strategies and conditions. . . it is not feasible within the difficult parameters of state and federal election laws to wait and see what the Green Party will do in June 2004.”


He questioned in the letter, and in public statements for months afterwards, what he considered the “lateness” of the Party’s convention, even though it was the same last weekend in June as the 2000 convention where he had been nominated four years before. Perhaps more tellingly, the late June nomination date was suggested by Nader himself when consulted and given three possible options by the party’s Presidential Exploratory Committee. Some Green leaders believe that he did so to ensure the availability of primary season FEC matching funds for what he then presumed would be his nomination without any serious internal challenge.


He concluded his reasons for this decision by writing, “Were I to become a candidate, I would not want to launch a campaign with such an uncertain compass regarding what should be a bedrock, genetic determination to run presidential and vice-presidential candidates all out–which is what, after all, national political parties–as opposed to movements–do.”


And so, as 2003 became 2004, David Cobb assumed the position of likely front-runner for the nomination.



The Avocado Declaration


The beginning of 2004 also brought a new Green Party voice into the roiling internal GPUS political waters: Peter Camejo. Fresh off his California Gubernatorial campaigns in 2002 and 2003, Camejo weighed in with what he

Called, “The Avocado Declaration.”


Camejo’s piece spent considerable time critiquing the Democratic Party, in particular, for its role in promoting the oppressive two-party corporate monopoly over U.S. politics. Among other points, it was critical of Democratic Presidential candidates Kucinich, Sharpton and Moseley because “they give legitimacy to the Democrats as ‘opponents’ of the Republicans. . . For the Green Party there is nothing more important. . . in stopping Bush than to expose how the corporate interests use their two-party system and the role of the Democrats in that system.”


On the specific question of Green Party strategy, Camejo was unequivocal: “Those voices who say Nader should not run, that the Greens should consider

withdrawing, that the Greens should not campaign in states where the vote is close are, unconsciously, actually helping Bush’s re-election by weakening the development of an opposition political movement. . . Are we willing to stand up to the rule of corporate domination and its central political agent that has deceived and betrayed our people, the Democratic Party?”


As 2004 evolved, Camejo’s targeting of the Democratic Party as, in essence, the party which Greens most needed to attack became even more explicit. In April, at a public forum in New York City, he said, “Kerry will do what Bush wants to do better,” that Kerry was a greater evil than Bush. In mid-August, in an article of approximately 3,000 words, “Cut and Run: The Green Party 2004 Convention,” a harsh attack on the Cobb/LaMarche campaign as virtually a tool of the Democratic Party, there was literally no mention of the Bush/Cheney campaign and the threat posed by its re-election. As I said in a written response to Camejo, “It’s as if the Presidential election, in your mind, is between Nader and Kerry, with puny David Cobb cluttering up the big contest between these two heavyweights.”



Greens Divided on Strategy


Many Greens all over the country were deeply concerned about the prospect of

a second Bush/Cheney administration. In early Spring of 2004 a statement was circulated signed by 31 leaders and members of the Green Party of Minnesota, which concluded: “It is our judgment that a 2004 Green Party presidential campaign will be detrimental to bottom-up party-building. While we do not

believe that the Green Party should endorse the nominee of one of the two dominant parties, for to do so would compromise the independent identity of the Green Party, we do believe that the Green Party of the United States should refrain from making a nomination in the 2004 presidential race. We will work actively to secure a vote in favor of ‘no presidential candidate’ at the 2004 Green Party national convention.”


Greens in other states, as in Wisconsin and Michigan in the summer of 2003, were passing statements in support of a “run hard everywhere” approach. The truth of the matter is that there was never a general consensus amongst Greens regarding the best strategy for 2004.


At a state meeting on January 31st the Green Party of New York adopted a statement which urged, in part, that the national party “shall commit itself to an aggressive run for President, including: campaigning in all areas of the country [and announcing to the press its intention to do so]; the encouragement of member states to include an active and complete campaign for. . . president in their efforts for candidates in 2004,” and special support in states which are dependent on “the results of the presidential election to gain or keep ballot status.”


David Cobb threw himself into this difficult political mix with an intensive schedule of travel to all parts of the country and the activation in early January of a nationwide Cobb campaign team that began meeting on a weekly basis via late night conference calls. Lynne Serpe, a widely-respected, dedicated and organizationally-skilled Green Party member, began working as the interim campaign manager. Dean Myerson, former GPUS Political Director, played an active role, as did Ted Glick of New Jersey, Holly Hart of Iowa, Ginny Case of California, John Rensenbrink of Maine and Blair Bobier of Oregon.


The focus of the Cobb campaign team for the first half of 2004 was the obtaining of the GPUS Presidential nomination. This meant David, and occasionally others on the team, traveling to as many states as possible to speak to and meet with GP members, putting forward the Cobb “smart growth,” (also called “strategic states,”) approach, answering questions, listening to what grassroots Green members were saying–in essence, basic organizing. It also meant upgrading what was, in early January, a rudimentary votecobb.org website into a much improved one. It meant beginning to put out press releases, primarily for internal GP distribution but also, in some cases, for wider distribution.


As David traveled from state to state he was able to get local media coverage virtually everywhere he went, with several hundred, separate print, radio and TV articles or interviews, including with some national media, by the time of the FORWARD 2004! Green National Convention, held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in late June.


And, of course, it meant fund-raising to cover the shoe-iest of a shoe-string budget; the Cobb nomination was won with a grand total of $40,000 raised over the six month period leading up to the convention.



Cobb’s Top Ten List


The Cobb campaign tried to loosen up the internal GPUS friction as best it could. One of the press releases issued about six weeks before Milwaukee listed what was called the “top ten reasons to support Cobb.” In order, from 10 to 1, they were:


-”He’s proven his commitment to the Green Party by serving as an organizer, fundraiser, trainer, lecturer and lawyer.

-He’s the only Texan in the race who’s actually held a real job.

-He’s working his tail off for the nomination and the Green Party and has visited Green locals in over 40 states since October.

-His strategy for the campaign will grow the Green Party and not piss off millions of potential Green Party members and supporters.

-He is a dedicated grassroots activist who works for democracy and the dismantling of transnational corporate empires.

-He is actively seeking the Green Party nomination and is working within the party’s internal democratic process.

-He puts party unity ahead of himself and pledges to support whatever decision the delegates to the national Green Party convention make with respect to a presidential candidate and pledges to implement whatever campaign strategy the Green Party endorses.


-His strategic campaign is designed to protect and maintain ballot access for state Green Parties.

-He has worked with labor and environmentalists and has successfully recruited Green Party candidates from communities of color.

-He’s a presidential candidate from Texas who can speak in complete sentences!”


January was the month that the process began of choosing delegates to the Milwaukee convention. The rules for the choosing of delegates by state parties were put together in 2003 in the usual, democratic way by the GPUS’ National Coordinating Committee, a body of 122 people with representatives from every state where a Green Party is organized, 43 in all. It is important to mention, given developments after Cobb won the nomination, that there was no serious controversy over the procedures developed and the formula decided upon for allocation of delegates per state.



Delegates Begin to Be Chosen


Cobb won with 37% of the vote in the first state primary, in the District (colony) of Columbia in mid-January. By mid-February he had also won with a 41% plurality at the Ohio Green Party convention and was assured of at least six of Iowa‘s nine delegates. By early March he had won in Illinois and Rhode Island.


His first major setback, not unexpected, came in California, where he came in a distant second with about 15% of the primary vote behind Peter Camejo. Cobb campaign leaders expected a large victory for Camejo given that, at the time,

David had been living in California for less than a year and Camejo had very high name recognition and Green membership popularity in California following his two Gubernatorial campaigns.


Camejo decided to put his name on the California ballot, and to allow others to do the same in other states around the country, soon after issuing his Avocado Declaration. He did so, he said in a written statement, “to offer an alternative that did not commit us to any specific final decision until we are at the convention. I will not bind any delegate who votes for me but will make it clear at the convention that they should vote their conscience.”


Prior to the California vote, Cobb was endorsed by the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Their editorial explaining why said, “he argues that in 2004 the Greens should focus on a ‘safe state’ strategy, only running a presidential candidate” in non-swing states. Of Camejo they said, “he argues that the Greens should continue to push the line that there’s little difference between the Democrats and Republican (certainly untrue in this election) and should campaign vigorously in every possible state. He’s been pushing Nader to run again as a Green–something that would be a disaster for the party. We like Camejo, and we appreciate his energy and political activism. But right now, in 2004, the best thing for the Green Party is to not allow itself to be in the position of helping reelect Bush. Vote for David Cobb.”