Bush, Clinton -- and Perot

April 30, 1992

Pennsylvania effectively closed out the traditional party primary season by putting President Bush over the top to clinch the Republican nomination and giving Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton's Democratic campaign an aura of inevitability. There are still more tests to go, but they will be pro forma.

Front-runners Bush and Clinton will therefore try to concentrate on one another as though this is still a two-man race. It isn't. H. Ross Perot, the blunt-talking Texas billionaire who proposes to finance his own independent bid for the presidency is gaining ground with every new opinion poll. One of the latest national samplings: Bush, 36 percent; Clinton, 31 percent; Perot, 30 percent.

Even in Pennsylvania, a triumphant contest for the prospective party nominees, exit polls showed Mr. Perot was the real choice of 27 percent of GOP voters and 25 percent of the Democrats. He is attracting the interest of voters fed up with the political system and the two established parties.

As Pennsylvania results poured in, both Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton found themselves involved in events custom-designed to turn people off.

Mr. Bush starred in a fat-cat fund-raising "President's Dinner" that netted GOP campaign coffers $9 million -- a record for a single affair of this kind. Many of the attendees were targets of "bundling," a technique in which companies put pressure on high-ranking employees to "bundle" their legitimate individual contributions to make a bigger corporate splash. Mr. Bush came out against "bundling" three years ago, but now vows to veto a Democratic reform bill to do just that.

Mr. Clinton hardly had a happier time of it. He spent his post-Pennsylvania day on Capitol Hill courting "super delegate" members of Congress. They could just about seal the Clinton nomination. But lawmakers are in such bad odor with the voters, especially House members entangled in their bank scandal, that Mr. Clinton did his best to avoid the photo ops he usually seeks.

How all this plays into the Perot game-plan can only be surmised. For now, the Texan's volunteers have just about enough signatures to put him on the ballot in a couple dozen states, including Maryland. In the meantime, the maverick candidate is getting all the free television time any politician could hope for while saving his money for paid TV ads in the fall. That is, if he goes for it. The only shred of pleasant conjecture for Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush is that independent candidates who bloom in the spring usually fade in the fall.

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