Leaders of presidential hopeful Ross Perot's organization in Maryland said a big thank-you yesterday to the supporters who produced more than twice the number of petition signatures needed to get the billionaire on the November ballot.
Even as they were dishing out the free barbecue in Pasadena last night, the signature-gathering continued. And they said that they would keep at it even after volunteers in each county deliver their petitions to election officials tomorrow.
"The purpose of the barbecue is to have fun, but people can learn about Perot and sign the petitions," said Thomas P. Nolan, a volunteer with the North Anne Arundel County Perot Petition Committee, which sponsored the event. "But even if you don't like Perot, you're welcome to come and join us."
About 150 people dined on hot dogs, hamburgers and Texas-style barbecue while browsing through tables filled with Perot literature and watching videotaped television broadcasts of the Texas businessman who announced the possibility that he would run in April.
"I've been in America for 20 years, but this is actually the first chance I've got to vote. And I'm going to vote for Perot," said Gregory Wieckowski, 37, of Brooklyn. "I believe this man has the business mind to get our economy going."
"We've come a long way since we began all of this," Mr. Nolan recalled. "Perot is, all of this is, untypical and spontaneous -- nothing like anything we've ever seen in the political arena."
He wasn't strictly speaking of the "grass roots and grilled food" approach his organization is taking to the campaign. He said he believes that the number of people signing the petitions reflects the depth of America's dissatisfaction with government this year.
"What we are seeing is the American public saying, 'I'm just one person, but one person multiplies,' " he said.
In Maryland, multiplication was expected to produce 150,000 signatures, more than double the 63,000 needed to put Mr. Perot's name on the ballot. Organizers expect election offices to disqualify some signatures so they planned to gather more than the number required by August.
Volunteers like Cara Jean Recio, who collected signatures from neighbors and friends, are credited with accomplishing the task.
"Many of the people I approached had either already signed a petition or signed mine," said Ms. Recio, who lives in Annapolis and works at the Perot Petition Committee headquarters there.
"We have coordinators in every county and in Baltimore city who work hard to organize events and get signatures," said Joan Vinson, director of the committee in Maryland. "There are about 1,500 volunteers working actively in the state."
A total of $32,000 in donations has flowed into the Maryland Perot campaign since April, much of it from the sale of T-shirts and buttons, and gatherings similar to yesterday's barbecue.
Mr. Nolan explained the Perot movement's brush-fire growth: "He's making people talk about the issues. How many of the candidates were talking about the national debt before he came into it?"
"I never thought I'd be doing anything like this, let alone head up one of the parts of the organization," said Dan Tewell, regional coordinator of the committee in North Anne Arundel County. "But I got involved for the children. If we don't do something now, this country's going to be nothing in the future."
And even if people eliminate the businessman from their list of candidates, Mr. Nolan said, Mr. Perot's run for the presidency is all about giving people a choice.
"People will go into the voting booths in November, and they can choose," he said. "There will be a Republican, a Democrat, a Libertarian, and there will be Perot."
* June 21: Barbecue, noon to 6:30 p.m., Circle D Farm in Woodbine. Admission is free.
Barbecue, 3 to 8 p.m., 3707 Military Road, Washington. Tickets are $25 per person, $45 for couples and $15 for children.
* June 22: "Grass Roots Golf," 9 a.m. at the Queenstown Harbor Golf Links. $100 for individual play, $400 for a foursome, $35 for dinner only.
* June 27: Perot Evening Birthday Gala, 8 p.m. at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington. Admission is $10.
* July 1: Potluck Supper, 6 p.m. at the Perot Petition Committee Headquarters in Annapolis. Admission is free.