People cheerfully accept Perot -- 'warts and all' ON POLITICS

JACK W. GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

June 17, 1992|By Jack W. Germond & Jules Witcover

VENTURA, Calif. -- At the state headquarters of the Ross Perot for President headquarters here, they're getting ready to demonstrate to the voters of America tomorrow that there is more than a favorable poll or two involved in speculation about the Texas billionaire's chances to win the nation's most populous state in November.

Buses have been chartered to take hundreds of Perot supporters to a massive rally in the Republican stronghold of Orange County south of here celebrating the filing of more than 500,000 signatures to put Perot's name on the California ballot.

Earlier in the day, the first of the petitions will be filed at the state Capitol in Sacramento, with Perot on hand to thank the faithful and urge them on. Then he will go to Irvine in Orange County for the rally.

Bob Hayden, a Ventura engineer who launched the petition drive out of his home in March, says only 134,781 signatures are required -- 1 percent of California's registered voters. But the petition drive will continue until the closing date for filing, Aug. 7, "because our volunteers want to" and because the effort is an ideal organizing tool for the all-volunteer campaign in the state.

Without a trace of professional organizers in sight in California -- not yet, anyway -- Perot was running well ahead of President Bush and Gov. Bill Clinton in the most recent Los Angeles Times poll of 1,469 registered voters nearly a month ago: Perot 39 percent, Clinton 26 percent, Bush 25 percent.

The mood at the state headquarters is buoyant as well-wishers come in to sign up, to volunteer or just talk politics. In most other campaign headquarters, that means talking up the candidate, but at this one the other day it was more an open examination of Perot, as one supporter bluntly put it, "warts and all."

With no party line to adhere to, Republicans and Democrats refreshingly chimed in to say what they liked and didn't like about him. To the proposition that Perot is too authoritarian or too vague on the issues, his volunteers cheerfully replied that these complaints might be valid, but they were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt barring something really damaging.

Drawing their attention the other day was a page-one story in the Los Angeles Times in which former Perot associates testified that he once had threatened to "pull the plug" on the General Motors computer system run by him to resolve a power struggle in which he was then engaged with Roger Smith, the GM chairman at the time.

"You see some things that might be dangerous," acknowledged Bob Burkhardt, a retired teacher sporting a straw cowboy hat with a Perot button attached, "but he's a leader." What the Times story showed, he suggested, was that Perot "goes to the brink, but he doesn't do anything illegal."

Burkhardt's wife, Pat, sounded like Perot himself when she said "we need taxpayers" if the country is going to help those in need, adding that Perot might be the ticket. But she didn't see him as perfect, either. "If I had to criticize Perot," she said, "he comes across as sort of a bluenose," referring to his remark about not hiring adulterers.

One volunteer answering phones admitted that she had come in mostly to learn more about Perot, and that she was still "undecided" because she didn't know how he stood on issues of prime interest to minority voters such as herself.

In most campaign headquarters, someone who confesses to be uncertain about where a candidate stands on a particular issue can expect to be buried in a pile of position papers carefully crafted to answer all possible questions. But with Perot still "cramming for exams," as Bob Burkhardt put it, currently available in the Ventura headquarters are only three pages of short Perotisms culled from recent television shows and interviews.

For example, on political action committee contributions to candidates: "Absolutely get the Orkin man and get rid of all the PACs." Or one reason to give President Bush the line-item veto: "I'd like for him to quit whining about not having it."

Voters looking for a detailed plan to wipe out the federal deficit won't find it here. Still, they have been eagerly signing up in droves to put Perot on the California ballot -- three times more than are needed, and they aren't stopping yet.

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