With his rounded Texan vowels peeking out from a generic American accent, a buttoned-up shirt and blazer and magnifying wire-rimmed glasses, David Cobb, at first glance, seems to be more insurance salesman than typical Green Party presidential candidate.
He is, after all, a Texas lawyer familiar with the Democratic Party. But spend five minutes with Cobb and Green is what you get.
"I'm a spoiler," Cobb joked when he met with the Register-Pajaronian late Friday afternoon. "But what you might call 'spoiling,' the Green Party calls 'participating.' We are going to exercise our democratic right to participate in this election. And if our participation is in any way problematic, doesn't that show that our system itself is problematic?"
Born in 1963 in San Leon, Texas, Cobb was a public interest lawyer before joining the Green Party and overseeing Ralph Nader's presidential campaign in Texas during the 2000 election.
It was disillusionment with the Democratic Party that brought Cobb to activist politics, and a commitment to what he calls "social justice" that keeps him in it.
"Underlying the Green Party is an interconnected set of values and principals," he said. "It's a philosophy as much as a platform. We understand that the world is interconnected, and that we're a part of that, not above it."
Third-party politics require equal doses of optimism, stubbornness and hard-hitting reality. For the Green Party, despite growing by leaps and bounds in local elections nationwide over the past eight years, the hard-hitting reality is that its presidential candidates are taken more often than not to be "spoilers."
It is, however, a reality that Cobb embraces as "fixable."
He would like to see a change in the electoral system allowing people to vote for their top three choices so that those who vote for a candidate who doesn't win a majority don't feel that they are wasting their votes.
Standing on a platform ranging from immigrants rights (he supports driver's licenses for immigrants and school board voting rights for all parents regardless of citizenship) to raising the minimum wage ("The minimum wage needs to be a living wage so that everyone makes enough money to raise themselves above the poverty line," he said), Cobb is unabashedly liberal. But he prefers the word "progressive." And, surprisingly, he accepts that he may not be an electable candidate.
"My campaign is designed to achieve objective, concrete, achievable goals and articulate the progressive agenda," he said. "I want to register more people in the Green Party. If, at the end of this swing through Santa Cruz, as a result of my visit here, people decide, 'You know, I need to register into the Green Party to join this movement for peace, justice democracy and ecology,' I'll consider it a success."
For Cobb, it is the growth of the Green Party, rather than his campaign or any individual issue, that is key to this election. He is a 2004 candidate looking, mostly, to 2016.
"Do I think we can succeed?" he asked rhetorically. "I'm confident that we will. I think we'll elect a president in the 2016 presidential cycle. And you know what? When we elect a president, she will do all the things we're talking about here."