The menu for the Green Party presidential ticket's July 19 visit to Northside was simple: cobb salad, corn on the cob and fruit cobbler -- all plays on the name of presidential nominee David Cobb.
Getting supporters to show up to meet Cobb and vice-presidential candidate Pat LaMarche at the $20-a-seat fund-raiser proved more difficult. The Green Party faces a long list of challenges, although it has a few bright spots.
Nationally, the Green Party continues to grow. The number of voters registered as Green Party members rose 8.7 percent in the past two years to 298,701, according to party literature. Greens hold 205 elected positions in 24 states, compared to 87 in 2000.
In a telephone interview last week, Cobb said his candidacy is reinvigorating the Green Party.
"I can tell you the excitement amongst local Greens at the grassroots level for upcoming trips is very high," he said. "And so I am very excited about going out on the road."
The party has also had local success. Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader won 9,222 votes in Hamilton County in 2000. Nineteen delegates from Ohio went to the Green Party presidential nominating convention in June.
Blowing off the ballot
Cobb has a direct and simple nine-point platform Green Party leaders believe will appeal to many voters. Priorities include pulling U.S. troops home out of Iraq and Afghanistan, universal single-payer health care, ending corporate personhood and switching to instant runoff voting for presidential elections.
Cobb will appeal to people who feel left out of the current political process, according to Rich Stevenson, a member of the Ohio Green Party coordinating committee and candidate for Congress in Ohio's First District.
"I think there is a real desire for new blood in politics," he says. "When you look at many general election turnouts, only 30 to 40 percent show up to vote. So that means there are lots of people disengaged."
Delivering votes to Cobb this year will be more difficult than in 2000 with Nader. Because Nader received less than 5 percent of the national vote, the Green Party won't receive federal funding for the 2004 campaign.
Going into the race in 2000, Nader was an already well-known consumer rights crusader. Cobb is a virtually unknown former insurance lawyer from Texas. Before being nominated, his claim to fame in the Green Party was getting Nader's name on the Texas ballot in 2000 -- a feat thought impossible, but little recognized outside the Green Party.
The ghost of Nader still haunts the party. He is running as an independent this year because he didn't receive the party's endorsement. Yet he is polling higher than Cobb and might siphon off some Green supporters.
Cobb offered a diplomatic explanation of his disagreement with Nader.
"I believe that we have to build a political party that will challenge the corporate parties," he said. "Ralph is attempting to do it with an independent campaign. As a result, I don't know what the real goal of Ralph's independent campaign is."
Cobb faces a struggle in his attempt to get on the Ohio ballot. To appear on the ballot as the Green Party candidate he needs 50,000 signatures on candidacy petitions. Instead the party is is circulating petitions to place Green on the ballot as an independent candidate, which requires only 5,000 signatures. At last count in early July, supporters had collected 1,000 signatures, according to Paul Dumouchelle, secretary of the Ohio Green Party and its ballot petition coordinator. The deadline is Aug. 18.
Russell Buckbee, the party's Ohio spokesman, says some of the 100 signatures he's collected came from Republicans.
"I have Republicans eager to sign because they think it will take votes from Kerry," Buckbee said. "I have independents sign. So it is a mixed response and therefore it is maybe not as good as some petitions."
But a large voter turnout isn't the goal, some party officials say.
"It is not about getting votes," Marshall says. "It's about getting the word out, about helping people understand what we say and what we do and allowing that we exist and that there is an alternative."
Eric Wise, secretary of the Southwest Ohio Green Party, says the party has a better chance of growing if it focuses on specific regions, such as the West, rather than on a national campaign. Cobb, he believes, can help with this goal.
"I think it is good that Cobb is coming," Wise says. "Because in this region it is a real uphill battle to grow the party and his presence can only help."
Feeling progressives' pain
The Green Party faces an image problem. Many people continue to believe the party is a refuge for tree-hugging hippies out of touch with average Americans. Democrats blame Nader and the Greens for spoiling Al Gore's chance of winning the 2000 election. They fear Nader or Cobb will spoil the 2004 election. Radicals claim the Green Party's platform doesn't go far enough.
Wrote Jeffrey St. Clair in the popular political journal Counter Punch, "The Greens have rendered themselves irrelevant as anything more than a feel-good subaltern to the Democratic Party, a kind of decompression tank for thumb-sucking progressive malcontents."
Cobb dismisses the criticism and insists that a vote for him isn't equivalent to a vote for Bush.
"I can tell people with candor, honesty and sincerity, 'Don't waste your vote on the corporate controlled parties,' " Cobb said. "Invest your vote in the future because a vote today helps grow the Green Party, our principals, values and message."
He admits, however, that some progressive voters might be reluctant to vote for him.
"Any progressive voter who feels terrified of the idea of four more years of Bush and is going to hold their nose and not vote for Kerry because he is no progressive, but wants to get Bush by pulling the lever for Kerry -- what I say to such a voter is I completely understand what position you are in," Cobb said. "And if you are having to do that then do what you feel you need to do, but register into the Green Party."
Marshall agrees with Cobb that the party's long-term future is more important than picking up votes in November.
"I don't think it is part of our goal to get votes," Marshall said. "I think it is part of our goal to grow our party and get the issue out. And keep the other guys on their toes -- all the other guys." ©