Voters' response propels Ross Perot to take steps ON POLITICS

Jack W. Germond & Jules Witcover

May 13, 1992|By Jack W. Germond And Jules Witcover

DALLAS -- The morning after supporters in Austin had filed more than 200,000 signatures to place his name on the Texas ballot, H. Ross Perot was back in his high-rise office here, still filled with the wonderment of it all.

That "ordinary people," as he called them in a speech on the

Texas Capitol steps, could pull off the feat -- in five weeks gathering four times the number of names required -- was a marvel to him.

He never imagined, he said, when he made that "impulsive statement" that he'd run for president if such folks placed him on the ballot in 50 states, that they could pull it off. But they are so well on the way to doing it, he said, it looks as if he has made a promise he's going to have to keep.

Perot acknowledges now that, while the effort was self-starting, he has been obliged to give it a hand -- a fact underscored by the bank of 100 telephones he has installed and paid for in a nearby office building with ample space for expansion into a full-blown campaign headquarters.

"When it started happening," he says of the response to his promise, "we had chaos, so I had to put the telephone bank in to get that away from my office. So you could say I started to make it happen right there."

He then needed a small team of aides to respond to the calls, he says, "and now, since it is going so well, we are having to organize on issues, and have to organize assuming a campaign." If it happens, he says, "and there's no organization, it will be too late to create one."

Right now, Perot is supposed to be hunkered down, maintaining a low profile while he and aides prepare policy positions to help him weather the barrage of questions on substance and on his past actions that have come hand-in-hand with the success of his petition drive.

Indeed, he is not saying much about such matters as the reports based on Nixon staff memos in the National Archives suggesting that the man who presents himself as an outsider in politics actually was up to his neck in inside dealings with the Nixon administration.

What he will say, beyond denying the allegations, is that these and other reports have all been brought to the press by agents of the Republican Party in the hope of scaring him out of the presidential race, and that is not about to happen. In fact, he hints, the Republicans may be sorry before the campaign is over that they ever started digging up the past.

Perot insists he is going to run a positive campaign, in line with the tone he tried to set in his speech in Austin at the petition filing, when he told his supporters that "if you hate other people, I don't want your vote."

Asked whether, for all the volunteer underpinnings of the Draft Perot effort so far, he will have to hire professional consultants to run it, he says: "We are not going to hire people to try to destroy the other two candidates, if that's what you mean."

This is a rare reference by Perot to the fact that there are two other candidates, so focused does he seem to be on President Bush as his target. "I think the Democrats have a program and have a platform and have things they believe in and are talking about them," he says, without ever mentioning Gov. Bill Clinton.

The phenomenon of an independent presidential candidate with enough money to finance what he calls a "world-class campaign" out of his own pocket has brought Perot much unsolicited advice on how to conduct it. Some pros have suggested that because he is new to politics and has such a fat bankroll, his best strategy would be to run exclusively on paid television, staying out of the fire of the news media and the public. But Perot insists it won't be that way, because the feedback from both the press and the public are helpful to him.

He says he's not about to campaign "like some Third World dictator" surrounded by excessive security, because he needs to be out rubbing elbows with those "ordinary people" who have gotten him into this business.

As for the press, he says, "the playback on those television shows where people are arrogant and condescending" has produced more support for him than he could ever generate himself.

Perot still declines to set a date to announce his candidacy, but it doesn't really matter. "All this stuff [that he says comes from the Republicans] does," he says, "is just increase my resolve that we have to do it."

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