Greens find strength in local races but struggling nationally
SAN JOSE, Calif. - After a dismal showing in the presidential contest, the Green Party finds itself out in the cold and likely to lose ballot access in a handful of states.
Nov. 29, 2004
Its little-known candidate, Eureka, Calif., lawyer David Cobb, won barely one-10th the vote Ralph Nader captured as the party's nominee in 2000, meaning the party will not clear the vote threshold to stay on the ballot in some places. His decision to run in states where his campaign would not threaten the Democratic candidacy of John Kerry made his a token campaign that was further drained of energy by Nader's competing independent candidacy.
"No one ever likes their candidate not to get votes," said Jo Chamberlain, a national co-chair for the Greens who lives in Half Moon Bay, Calif., and stayed out of the party's intramural split over whether to nominate Nader or go with Cobb. "Let's be honest."
But even as the Greens struggle to remain relevant nationally, they are showing strength in local elections, particularly in liberal Northern California, where they have been able to position themselves to the left of moderate Democrats.
First-time Green candidates won spots on California's Richmond City Council and Moraga Town Council and held the seat vacated by San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez.
"The real lesson in this is to go back to local party building," said Green Party activist Medea Benjamin.
Nationally, Greens have been trying to resuscitate their image and mend fences with Nader and his supporters by promoting a recount in Ohio, where there are lingering questions about the vote count. Last week, a federal judge postponed any recount until after the final vote tally, which is due Dec. 6.
Cobb said the Democrats' 2004 defeat had dispirited leftists who swallowed their disagreements on the war in Iraq and free trade to back Sen. Kerry - only to watch President Bush get re-elected.
Although he won just 112,195 votes nationwide, Cobb said the Greens increased their voter registration 5 percent nationally. In California, his home state, Cobb won 37,393 votes, or 0.3 percent. But the lack of votes will not keep Greens off the ballot in California, which has a generous policy toward third parties and, in any case, uses gubernatorial elections to decide eligibility.
Cobb predicted that left-leaning Democratic voters would now turn to the Green Party out of disgust for the Democrats, who, he said, not only failed to win but also have refused to protest the ballot counting.
"I accomplished my end of everything, and here it is left up to me and the Libertarian candidate to stand up and demand a recount in Ohio," he said.
"We're literally being flooded with e-mails, phone calls, letters from people who are changing their voter registration based on this recount."
Their views are in the minority, however. Bush's sizable 3 million-vote margin of victory was enough to keep Democrats from questioning the balloting.
Analysts say the political polarization in the nation makes it hard for the Greens to make inroads, because Democrats will remain united in their opposition to Bush and his policies.
"The best time to be a Green is when there's a Democrat elected and they disappoint the left," said Bruce Cain, a political-science professor at the University of California-Berkeley. Instead, he said, the party would have more success running candidates on the local level.
About 20 percent of the Greens who ran for office in California in November won their races, according to party officials. The state now has an estimated 75 Green Party elected officials. That is 35 percent of the Green Party's total nationally.
In San Francisco, Board of Supervisors President Gonzalez, one of the nation's high-profile Greens, will be replaced by his handpicked successor, Ross Mirkarimi, a co-founder of the California Green Party. Gonzalez has hinted he is interested in running for a higher office, perhaps statewide.
Elsewhere, Green Party candidates are often former Democrats whose platforms have broad appeal beyond the old Green stereotype of a tree-hugging environmentalist.
In Richmond, Calif., and in Moraga, Calif., an affluent and Republican-leaning enclave, both winners were women who campaigned almost exclusively on local issues.
Gayle McLaughlin, a first-grade teacher, finished in a surprising fifth place in a crowded field of 15 candidates, grabbing the final vacancy on the Richmond council by opposing a proposed casino.
Lynda Deschambault, who was once a Democrat, won election to the Moraga Town Council by campaigning to control development along the town's bucolic ridge lines. She said she did not go out of her way to advertise herself as a Green Party member.
"It simply wasn't an issue in a non-partisan race," said Deschambault, who works for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "But I certainly had nothing to hide."
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