Perot Keeping His Options Open

July 18, 1992|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Staff Writer

DALLAS -- One day after pulling out of the presidential race, Ross Perot raised the possibility that he would stay a factor in it after all.

Appearing to respond to the deep anger and disappointment among his supporters, the Texas billionaire said he had no plans to take his name off the November ballot, although he insisted he wouldn't actively campaign for the presidency. The 62-year-old businessman is already on the ballot in at least 24 states and could be on more if his volunteers continue their efforts.

In an interview on "Larry King Live" on CNN, the show on which he first flirted with idea of a presidential run, Mr. Perot said his presence on the ballot would provide "leverage," forcing Bill Clinton and President Bush to address the issues important to him and his army of volunteers.

"We can provide the swing vote as to who gets to be the next president of the United States," Mr. Perot said on "Larry King Live."

"Stay the course as a united team," Mr. Perot told his supporters. "Now then, if we stay together we can force the Democrats and the Republicans to do the right thing for the country."

He also held out the possibility that voters could cast their ballots for him in protest if neither Mr. Clinton nor Mr. Bush were responsive. Even if Mr. Perot attracted only 5 percent to 10 percent of the vote, it could determine the outcome of a close race.

Mr. Perot said he would meet with state leaders this weekend to discuss ways to keep the grass-roots movement together as a political force. He suggested his coalition would go so far as to draft a platform and endorse candidates in House and Senate races around the country.

He called that plan "a much bigger and bolder step. I think we're on to a better way now that impacts the whole system -- not just the White House."

The movement, he said, could evolve into a third party. "Everything is in place for a third party," he said. "It would be an easy, natural thing."

But in an interview taped earlier in the day with Barbara Walters that was broadcast last night on ABC, Mr. Perot said nothing about remaining a potent political force.

"I will vote quietly in November,"he said. "I won't publicly support a candidate."

When he announced he was pulling out of the race on Thursday, he said he was worried that a three-way race would send the election into the House, where he contended he would have a poor chance of winning. His abrupt departure left in its wake hundreds of thousands of crushed volunteers who'd hitched their hopes to this unlikely politician.

Several disillusioned supporters called Mr. Perot on CNN last night, including Cher, who implored him to keep his candidacy alive. Others lambasted him for betraying them.

A Jefferson, Mo., caller described him as "all dough and no show."

Although the computer tycoon said he was abandoning the race because the Democratic Party had revitalized itself and his continued presence would be "disruptive" to the process, those who know the feisty businessman believe that reason can be put more simply:

He didn't think he would win.

"I think that was everything," said a manager at Mr. Perot's former company, Electronic Data Systems, who has known the entrepreneur for many years. "He does not part with a buck in a lost cause."

Earlier this spring and summer, though, it looked like anything but a lost cause. It looked, in fact, as if there was no stopping "the Perotphenomenon." But ironically, the political inexperience

that started out as an asset in this year of the outsider proved to be his undoing.

"Ross, on some campaign tactical questions, was marching to the beat of a different drummer," says Hamilton Jordan, the veteran Democratic strategist who became a Perot campaign co-manager last month. "But it's difficult for me to question his instincts."

Still, the conflicts became so profound that one aide said the campaign had been "sick" for about the last month.

Last Friday, Mr. Perot nixed a TV campaign by Hal Riney, the adman credited with Ronald Reagan's successful "Morning in America" themeof 1984, believing he was being taken by the price tag of $80,000 to $100,000.

But beyond finances, aides and Perot associates say the intense scrutiny on all aspects of his life, the grilling and the criticism -- all part of the reality of presidential campaigns these days -- took its toll on the corporate executive who'd spent his career honing a heroic image. "It bothered the hell out of him," the EDS manager said. "There was a lot of ego feeding during the early days. Then, all of a sudden, he was up against some tough stuff."

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