MILWAUKEE – Delegates and guests from around the U.S. and the world met here June 23-28 for “Forward 2004,” the presidential nominating convention of the Green Party of the United States. The voting delegates selected Texas lawyer-activist David Cobb as the Greens’ candidate for U.S. president and Pat LaMarche, a former radio personality from Maine, as their candidate for vice president.

While the five-day event also served as a forum for networking and policy discussions, national observers watched the convention mainly to see whether the Greens would endorse independent candidate Ralph Nader, who secured their nomination in 1996 and 2000. Nader sought a Green “endorsement” this time around, but not its nomination, a formula which would have helped him secure both Green ballot access and the support of the rival Reform Party.

Shortly before the convention, Nader selected California’s top Green, Peter Camejo, as his running mate. Camejo had run as a placeholder for Nader in some pre-convention delegate contests.

Nevertheless, going into the convention, Cobb had patched together a plurality of delegates from many small states, plus large majorities in Texas and Wisconsin, while Camejo and Nader ran second and third, respectively, getting most of the California and New York delegates.

The convention was flooded with signs and buttons, petitions, rallies and debates supporting either Cobb or Nader-Camejo. Brian Verdin, a Milwaukee Green who ran for Congress, said, “Emotions were running pretty high. Some people were really eager to get Nader and Camejo.”

Ultimately, Cobb gained the nomination with 408 of 770 possible votes in the second round of voting. Green fundraiser Kara Mullen said she was proud that the vigorous debate did not erupt into “brawls or wars.”

Greens were offered a clear choice between the two leading tickets. In debates before and at the convention, Camejo had lambasted John Kerry and the Democratic Party for supporting Bush on “every single major issue” including the Iraq war. Camejo championed running strong in all 50 states.

In contrast, although Cobb’s literature says that George Bush “is a big problem, but he is not the problem,” his campaign signaled repeatedly that it would work hard to avoid in any way assisting Bush. Cobb said Greens should “use the ballot in a thoughtful, strategic, and deliberate way” and that he would vary his message in battleground states, to “tell voters honestly that Kerry is bad, but Bush is much worse, and let the them make their own decision.”

Jim Carpenter, a Milwaukee Green who garnered 29 percent of the vote for a state Senate seat here in 2002, said Cobb was a candidate who would run “with some conditions.”

“We have the long run vision of creating a party that is a party of peace,” said Carpenter, but “there is a problem with this particular election.” That problem is Bush. He said Cobb “understands that in some states, you have to be willing to say, vote for a Democrat” to suit “the overall agenda, which is to get rid of Bush.”

Verdin compared this election to “a chance to vote against Hitler” and said “most of the Greens are interested in seeing Bush get beat.” LaMarche later told reporters that she would not even vote for herself if Bush were not safely behind in state polls come Election Day.

Cobb also emphasized that his campaign would emphasize building the party, maintaining ballot lines, and assisting candidates for local office. The Green Party program emphasizes grassroots democracy, social and economic justice, peace and the enviroment. Greens currently hold 205 elected positions in the U.S. and will run over 400 candidates this year.

Wisconsin was chosen as the conference site in part because it boasts the highest number of elected Greens per capita and has a strong history of third party activism, notably Progressives and Socialists, including former Milwaukee Mayor Frank Zeidler, who spoke at the closing rally.

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