The Perot campaign in Maryland

March 30, 1992

1-800-685-777. Now there are two 800 numbers in the presidential campaign. We print H. Ross Perot's because, unlike Jerry Brown's, readers can get some information without being solicited for funds. Mr. Perot is the Texas billionaire businessman, philanthropist and corporate soldier of fortune whose efforts to free captured Americans in Vietnam and Iran made him a household word. He says he will finance his own third-party presidential campaign if a grass roots effort gets his name on all 50 state ballots.

Operators at the 800 number will take callers' names and addresses and send them kits explaining how to get Mr. Perot's name before the voters. Marylanders may also want to call 410-849-5650. That is the number of Joan Vinson-Stallings of Annapolis. She is coordinating a petition drive for her old friend Ross Perot. They've known each other since her husband was shot down in North Vietnam. She was involved in an organization of relatives of POWs, and he financed and led efforts to ransom the POWs out of prisons.

In Maryland, for a third party candidate to get on the ballot in the presidential race, supporters must submit a petition in the candidate's and his running mate's behalf by the first Monday in August. It must include the verifiable names of 3 percent of the state's registered voters. Ms. Vinson-Stallings calculates that at 63,169. That is a challenge, but it can be done. John Anderson met it in 1980, for example, and John Anderson is no Ross Perot.

Third party campaigns almost always fall far short of having an electoral impact. Only in 1912 did a third party candidate out-poll one of the major parties, and in that case the third party was led by a former president, Theodore Roosevelt, and he still lost badly. But third party candidates often affect politics in the long run, changing the nature of the debate and the major parties' priorities.

Whether a Texas tycoon is a realistic leader of a movement that would achieve even that relatively modest goal is not at all clear. But polls show many voters are dissatisfied with all the Democratic and Republican candidates for president this year. Something unusual -- something historic -- may be stirring in the body politic.

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