WASHINGTON -- Texas businessman H. Ross Perot, while saying he doesn't want to be president, observed in a C-Span interview last month that if "good, salt-of-the-earth people . . . on their own, as the owners of this country want to go out in 50 states with nobody programming them,nobody telling them what to do,and put me on the ballot as an independent,I will run as their servant."
In other words, Perot seemed to be talking about a genuine draft, with himself sitting idly by waiting to hear the voice of the people. He has not, however, been idle. After first addressing the question of a draft from television interviewer Larry King two months ago and appearing on C-Span, Perot has been making the television rounds expressing the same disinterest in being president but also the same willingness to bow to this demonstrated will.
He leased a toll-free 800 telephone number after the Larry King interview and, according to aides in Dallas, has a paid staff of six and volunteers manning 100 phones over which more than 2 million calls have been received from people inquiring how to go zTC about getting him on the ballot in their states.
Contact volunteers are now working in all 50 states and a team of field representatives has been dispatched from Dallas, each one assigned several states, to help the state contacts determine filing requirements and deadlines and organize petition drives to collect the necessary signatures for ballot qualification.
For example, one such representative traveled to Fairbanks, Alaska, a week ago to meet with Donna Gilbert, manager of the Ranch Motel there and a Republican member of the local borough assembly, who has been gathering signatures. A Gilbert assistant says only 2,002 are needed but 7,658 have already been received after Gilbert was interviewed on local radio shows. The field representative asked Gilbert to be Perot's state campaign coordinator, an indication that he is not waiting for ballot qualification to whip a campaign into shape.
Tom Luce, a Dallas lawyer who is coordinating the operations, says he expects that Perot will be able to get on the ballot in all 50 states, although Perot is now being quoted by the Associated Press as saying it would not have to be all 50 to get him in the race. One state, Arizona, does not hold its presidential primary until Sept. 8 and requires signatures of about 10,500 Arizonans who did not vote in that primary. Perot clearly could not wait that long to start an active candidacy.
Perot also said in the C-Span interview that he would not surround himself with political pros. He added, however, that "we're going to have to put together a plan of what to do, but as far as taking the same old time-worn practices -- you know, having a dirty tricks group, having all these odd, sick things that they have around campaigns -- no. I wouldn't want to be a part of any of that."
He has, however, consulted with a number of political pros, including Washington campaign consultant Ray Strother and New York pollster Mark Penn, and has just hired James D. Squires, a former editor of the Chicago Tribune who is not a political professional but has been around politics as a journalist for a long time, to handle media relations.
Strother says he discussed with Perot "problems involved in national campaigns" and told him a first step was accepting "the reality of needing professionals." In a National Press Club speech last month, Perot derided Washington as a city of "sound bites, shell games, handlers and media stuntmen who posture, create images and talk, shoot off Roman candles but don't ever accomplish anything."
Perot formally registered with the Federal Election Commission as a presidential candidate on Feb. 23 and this week advised the FEC that he had put $409,823 of his own money into his campaign plus $47,809 raised from other sources, and spent $394,803.
From all this, it is clear that while Perot is listening over his 800 number to the voice of the people who want to "draft" him, he is hardly a non-participant. As his famous mission to rescue two employees held hostage in Iran dramatically demonstrated, Ross Perot is not a man who waits for things to happen.