Former President Jimmy Carter said yesterday that Ross Perot's independent candidacy is "quite likely" to force the November presidential election to be decided in the House of Representatives.
But Mr. Carter, who supports Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton for president, said Mr. Perot's popularity probably is at a "high point" now and will "dissipate to a substantial degree" after the Democratic and Republican conventions this summer.
"He's a curiosity, he's a newsworthy item. He's on TV all day long every day when he's available to them," the 67-year-old Georgia Democrat said of Mr. Perot. "Poor Bill Clinton has to play the saxophone to get on TV."
The former president was in Baltimore to work on a Habitat for Humanity project to renovate vacant houses for low-income families.
Mr. Carter said the Perot candidacy is hurting President Bush "worse than anybody." He said he expects Congress to choose between Mr. Clinton and Mr. Perot after none of the three presidential candidates wins an Electoral College majority.
The former president, himself an "outsider" candidate in 1976, attributed the public fascination with Mr. Perot to "just a general disgust with what's going on in the political world. People just say 'let's have somebody who's not associated with the system.' "
Mr. Carter said he was not upset that Hamilton Jordan, his former chief of staff, went to work for Mr. Perot. "It's part of the American system," he said. "I don't have feelings one way or the other."
Mr. Carter said he was not criticizing Mr. Perot "because he has not been specific" yet about many issues.
"I think it's politically wise not to be specific, and he's learning every day . . . working with people like Hamilton Jordan about the complexity of the issues and how to deal with the press," he said.
The former president said he and his wife, Rosalynn, voted for Mr. Clinton in the Georgia primary. "I don't think anybody but Bill Clinton is talking about housing, education and health care," Mr. Carter said.