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Talk about chutzpah. David Cobb, general counsel of the Green Party, has run for office only once before � for Texas attorney general two years ago � and garnered less than 1 percent of the vote. But now the 41-year-old activist has set his sights on nothing less than the White House. Cobb, who handled the legal work that established the Greens’ national organization, is capitalizing on what he learned as party GC. He’s running for the Greens’ presidential nomination on an appropriately left-wing platform that combines calls for a living wage and universal health care with attacks on corporate elites and American jingoists. Though it’s the kind of message that does well in places like San Francisco, it’s a tough sell in the rest of the country. “Depending on who you ask, I’m either a visionary or a kook,” Cobb admits. Before he can make the case for his ideals, however, Cobb has to deal with a more practical problem: Ralph Nader. The corporate gadfly and consumer advocate has run for president on the Green Party ticket twice, in 1996 and 2000, and is mulling another run this year. (Nader declined to comment for this article.) Nader has been the best and the worst thing that’s happened to the Greens. He captured 2.7 percent of the national vote four years ago, the party’s best showing yet. But his success cast a shadow on the Greens. Many political observers think that Nader’s votes � especially the roughly 97,000 he earned in Florida � came at Democrat Al Gore’s expense. That’s the view of, among others, Ronald Klain, the O’Melveny & Myers partner who was general counsel to Gore’s Florida recount committee. “It is almost beyond dispute that had Ralph Nader not run, Al Gore would have been elected president,” Klain says. “Period.” As a result, the Greens have now been tagged as spoilers, making it hard for them to win support even among their natural constituency on the left. After all, if liberals split their votes between the Greens and the Democrats again, won’t they just hand George W. Bush a second term? Cobb thinks he has the solution. He says that if he becomes the Green Party candidate, he’ll only press for votes in the 40 or so states where the Democratic or Republican nominee is clearly going to win. Cobb vows to campaign lightly in the up-for-grab states where the Democrats need every possible vote. Above all, Cobb hopes to capture 5 percent of the national tally � the minimum necessary to qualify for federal matching funds in future elections � and to position the party for even stronger showings down the road. He says, “I really think there will be a Green in the White House by 2012.” Cobb’s rivalry with Nader is political, not personal. The younger lawyer calls Nader a “personal hero” who inspired him to take up the law. Cobb grew up poor near the Texas port city of Galveston; the household toilet, he says, was a five-gallon bucket. He gigged as a construction worker, a music promoter, and a Democratic organizer before deciding to go to law school at the University of Houston. After graduating in 1993, he spent the next seven years litigating bad faith claims and routine slip-and-fall cases at two insurance defense boutiques. Cobb joined the Greens in 1996 and later helped found its Texas chapter. He quit private practice and took a “considerable pay cut” to run Nader’s Texas campaign in 2000. After handling the paperwork to form the Green Party’s national organization, he became its first general counsel in 2001, charging $75 an hour for his time. As GC, he has labored through labyrinthine election laws to get the Greens on various state ballots, as well as assisting voter registration drives. He also consults with nonprofit and activist groups on how to organize and run campaigns. MONEY MATTERS For now, Cobb’s primary focus is on his own effort. As of mid-December, he didn’t have a staff, and had only raised $7,500. (By contrast, President Bush had amassed $84.6 million by the end of September; Howard Dean had netted $25.4 million.) Cobb saves money by driving his pickup truck or renting budget cars, and spending the night in friends’ spare bedrooms. “I’m building this bicycle as I ride it,” he quips. Cobb isn’t out kissing babies at the county fair, either. He’s busy courting the 400 or so Green stalwarts who will pick a nominee at the party’s convention in Milwaukee this June. Besides Cobb and Nader, there could be a half-dozen or more aspirants, say party officials. At a mid-December campaign stop in San Francisco, Cobb spoke to a motley crew of some two dozen Greens who had gathered at the party’s street-level office in the city’s South of Market neighborhood. He gave a rousing two-hour talk that was heavy on building Green Party growth and light on issues like rebuilding Iraq. If energy were enough to get to the White House, the hyperkinetic Cobb would already be halfway there. He made his points with passion, his eyes afire and his hands jabbing the air. His speech was liberally sprinkled with Texas pronunciations like “y’all,” “mah momma,” and “bruthah.” Cobb, who has a boyish grin and receding blond hair, wore cowboy boots, blue jeans, and a dark pin-striped sport coat over a black turtleneck. Cobb’s speech won him a few converts. “You’re fucking brilliant,” declared Phil Wilkie, a longtime Green activist who planned to support Nader but switched his allegiance after hearing Cobb talk. “What’s the biggest check I could write for you tonight?” Wilkie asked as Cobb solicited donations with a baseball cap. Two thousand dollars, replied Cobb, adding, “Bruthah, I share your anger.” Krysten Crawford is senior reporter at American Lawyer Media magazine Corporate Counsel, where this article first appeared in the February 2004 issue.

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