Both parties put out welcome mat, say Perot's exit will help DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

July 17, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- The welcome mat flew out in Maryland yesterday for the politically homeless backers of Ross Perot.

The men and women who launched themselves into a "Second American Revolution" collected more than 140,000 voter signatures to get Mr. Perot's name onto the Maryland ballot, no small accomplishment.

And now their hunger for change could become a force for one of the two remaining presidential candidates, Republican George Bush or Democrat Bill Clinton.

Spokesmen for both parties were officially exultant yesterday.

"Its great," insisted Larry Gibson, campaign director in Maryland for Mr. Clinton. The pro-choice and pro-change vote, he said, had been split between Mr. Perot and Mr. Clinton. Now, he argued,the Arkansas governor gets all of these disaffected voters.

Republicans were reading the withdrawal much differently, of course.

"I honestly think it helps President Bush," said Kevin Igoe, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party. "Perot's strength has been in Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore Counties, where the president did well in 1988 when he won Maryland.

"They'll come back to Bush," Mr. Igoe said. "It's easier for a Republican voter who was upset to say they were for Perot because Perot didn't have a party label than it would be for them to stand up and say they are for a liberal like Clinton."

The poll numbers and the overall Maryland environment, however, may be more threatening than Mr. Igoe would concede.

Del Ali, vice president of Mason Dixon Opinion Research in Columbia, said Mr. Clinton was the likely beneficiary of Mr. Perot's withdrawal in Maryland.

"With Perot in, Bush had a shot," he said. His firm's last poll, done in June, showed a dead heat. Mr. Clinton was the leader, though, in a two-man Maryland match-up with Mr. Bush.

The president's prospects are damaged by the economy, by a city Democratic organization determined to win Maryland for Clinton, and a U.S. Senate race that seems likely to go toward the Democratic incumbent.

In Maryland as elsewhere, Mr. Ali said, voters who considered Mr. Perot had begun moving away from him. Mr. Ali said the two candidates might expect to split the Perot vote in Maryland. Of the Republicans, half would go back to the president and half would sit the election out.

Betrayed yet again even by their erstwhile savior, Perot loyalists could elect to retire entirely from politics in 1992, though office-holders in both parties hailed their activism and courted them ardently.

"It's wonderful," said Dan Rupli, who managed Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin's campaign during the Maryland primary.

"I think there was a clear signal [from Mr. Perot in his withdrawal press conference] that his volunteers should come our way. His campaign has been thoroughly anti-Bush."

Mr. Perot's departure could have consequences in other Maryland races.

His presence in the fray had been soothing, for example, to at least one incumbent.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a a Democrat who represents the 5th Congressional District, said he thought Perot backers would slake their thirst for change at the presidential level by voting for Mr. Perot and thus be calmer when they voted in congressional races. If that is true, Mr. Hoyer and other incumbents could be more vulnerable to voter anger now.

Mr. Perot's presence in the race had been interpreted as a menace to both Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton. But all of that speculation is idle now, says Joel Rozner, a Clinton campaign official during the Maryland primary.

"Neither candidate can look to him for help. There are only two in ring. If people really want change they won't get it from the incumbent. There is nowhere else for them to go," he said.

The GOP's Kevin Igoe thinks the campaign will fall inevitably into the usual cycle. Democrats will surge after their convention. Republicans will have a surge after theirs. Then, the economy and the voters' comfort level with the two contenders will determine the outcome.

And few would dispute Mr. Rupli's last word: "We've got ourselves a race now."

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