Tsongas warns voters of lure of Perot

April 22, 1992|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

Paul E. Tsongas, former Democratic front-runner and winner of Maryland's March 3 Democratic primary, believes the type of voter he attracted may be lured from Democratic ranks by Ross Perot.

Mr. Tsongas, the former Massachusetts senator whose campaign has effectively ended, was discussing Mr. Perot's third-party challenge after speaking yesterday at ceremonies at the Maryland Science Center.

A woman interrupted the interview. "I'm from Pennsylvania," she said. "I wish you were still running."

They exchanged a few pleasantries. "What I might do is vote for Ross Perot," she said.

Mr. Tsongas turned back with an I-told-you-so look. "I get comments like this all the time," he said.

"The fact is that the last people to get the message are those in Washington. They just talk to each other and reinforce each others' views. They get locked into strategies like the middle-class tax cut, that kind of thing.

"Meanwhile the country, the rank and file, is really ready for a change. Ross Perot will fill that vacuum if the Democrats don't try to fill it first, that is until he self-destructs because of his personality."

In Maryland, the Draft Perot campaign is seeking signatures to get the Texas billionaire's name on the November ballot.

Mr. Tsongas was in Baltimore yesterday to speak at the kickoff of a campaign by an organization called Research!America, which seeks to encourage spending on medical and scientific research.

He was joined on a stage outside the Science Center by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul L. Sarbanes, and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd.

Mr. Tsongas invited the crowd, consisting mainly of people in the health care field, to look at a sculpture that dominated his view, an abstract melding of bars and wires that formed a crazy pattern suspended in the air. "That's what people see when the look at our government, everyone going off in a different direction," he said, lamenting the lack of an overall strategy. "Germany has one, Japan has one, Taiwan has one. We should, too."

Mr. Tsongas praised Governor Schaefer, who endorsed him, for making the Inner Harbor a reality.

"Think of all the mayors and governors who come and go and leave no trace. Think of all the presidents, too -- no interpretation please.

"You look at this place," he said of the Inner Harbor, "and think of how it used to be. How did it happen? It took a vision and a strategy."

He told of hearing of a plan in Taiwan to overtake the United States economically in 25 years. "Here, we don't even think six months down the road," he said, contending that people are willing to adopt, and vote for, a longer-term view.

"Look at all how well I did, at what happened in Connecticut, New York, Wisconsin after I stopped campaigning. You just have to show them how it's going to work, that they will have to give up some things now, like a middle-class tax cut, but they will get these things later," he said.

Mr. Tsongas said that he had no plans to release his delegates and assumes that his name will be placed into nomination at the Democratic convention.

He indicated that he does not think the convention will be contentious, that the candidate will be nominated on the first or second ballot, but he hopes that his delegates will be a force that will affect the party's platform and message in November.

"Mostly, I've just been sleeping," he said of his time since dropping out of the race. "It's very interesting watching your body recover from something like that. You just absorb the sleep. I take long naps."

His interest in the message of Research!America was fueled by the fact he is alive because of medical research. The lymphoma cancer he was diagnosed with in 1983 was successfully treated with a then-experimental bone-marrow transplant procedure. He has been free of cancer since 1986. "I am here as a guinea pig," he told the crowd. "I am grateful for what medical research has done for providing me with life. Other than that, you haven't done that much for me."

But he explained that his interest was more than that of a beneficiary of a particular government program asking for more money. He sees medical research as just the type of strategic economic investing the country needs.

Mr. Tsongas contended that the United States is now the recognized world leader in the health field and should build on that. It will bring people into the country for treatment and open international markets to drugs and technology, he said.

"Nobody even said the word 'biotechnology' a decade ago," he said. "Now it's one of the hottest growth industries around."

And, he noted, it's one that Japan is not involved in. "But they will be soon," he said.

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