He campaigns in cowboy boots, speaks in a Texas drawl and is running for president of the United States and he hopes to oust George W. Bush in November.
David Cobb brought his Green Party candidacy to Utah on Thursday, explaining what he called his "nuanced" campaign strategy that includes ousting Bush, helping the Green Party grow and, eventually, changing the entire electoral process in the United States.
Cobb is the first to admit that this won't be easy. He will have to convince voters Â— Democrats, progressives, even Green Party members Â— that voting for him won't make him a "spoiler" who steals votes from the Democratic candidate and thus ensures the election of Bush, as then-Green Party candidate Ralph Nader was accused of doing in the 2000 election.
First, Cobb has to persuade Green Party delegates to pick him at the party's national convention, to be held in Milwaukee this June. Some Green Party members would rather endorse Nader, who is running as an independent candidate for president this go-round. And some members argue that since, in their view, "anybody is better than Bush," their votes instead should go to Democrat John Kerry.
But, Cobb argues, a vote for Nader will not help the Green Party grow. And the Democratic Party and its primary process? "It's the place where progressive politics go to die," he says.
Cobb's campaign appearance at Westminster College drew only about 50 people, a number that had dwindled to about 20 by the time the hat was passed around for donations. But Cobb was fired up, talking fast and furious for two hours as he explained a strategy he hopes will oust Bush, whom he described as "an illegal occupant of the White House." The Supreme Court, he argued, executed a "judicial coup d'etat" by calling off the vote recount in Florida in 2002. "But the shame," he said, "needs to be focused on Al Gore, for not fighting to secure the election he won."
Cobb is a lawyer who serves as the national Green Party's general counsel. He helped found the Green Party of Texas and ran and lost as the Green Party candidate for attorney general in Texas in 2002. A Texas preacher's son who grew up in a house without a flush toilet, he says he's at home talking to ranchers and farmers and people in bowling alleys, "but when I'm in a bowling alley I never say 'trajectory' or 'paradigm.' "
Cobb's strategy is to campaign hardest not in the usual swing states but in states, like Utah, where Bush is all but assured of electoral college victory. "Don't waste your vote" by voting for Kerry, he tells Utahns. "Invest your vote." In the swing states, where a vote for Cobb could actually count, the strategy becomes less clear. On the one hand, voters should have the chance to vote for him if they choose, he says. On the other hand, he says he doesn't want to "unintentionally" be the election spoiler.
He hopes to help the Green Party grow at the local, state and national level, getting enough votes to keep the party on the ballot in future years and registering more Green Party voters.
That's the lesson Cobb says he learned when he helped run the Texas campaigns of presidential hopefuls Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988 and Jerry Brown in 1992: If you just work for candidates, without having a political party of your own, you have nothing to build on in the future.
"George Bush is not the problem," he says. "The problem is the socio-political-economic system that is literally destroying our planet." He describes that system as racist, sexist, classist and homophobic. "And for good measure, it masquerades as democracy when in fact it's a plutocracy Â— rule by the rich."
In a real democracy, he argues, there wouldn't be an electoral college. Instead, elections would be held using "instant run-off voting," letting voters rank their presidential or mayoral or other choices in order of preference.The history of America, he says, is one in which third party candidates are always told, patronizingly or rudely, to "go away." But third party activists, he says, were responsible for the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, unemployment insurance and the end of child labor.